Tech Policy Update March 2020
VIRAL MISINFORMATION AND VIRAL INFECTIONS — Since the 2016 election, online misinformation has become an important topic of conversation, and R Street hosted two panels this month on the topic. Our panel on the 2020 election, as recapped by Jeff Westling, brought together scholars from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Kentucky and New York University to discuss “complexities of the online sphere, malicious disinformation and its mechanisms of efficacy, and the science behind strategies for stopping disinformation.” A second virtual event discussed misinformation spreading with regard to the current pandemic and ways to combat it.
ONLINE PLATFORM IMMUNITY — In the Washington Examiner, Shoshana Weissmann and Daisy Soderberg-Rivkin review the recently introduced EARN IT Act, which creates a new commission on stopping child sexual abuse materials. Weissmann and Soderberg-Rivkin explain that, though the law attempts to say otherwise, it would effectively force online platforms to obey the commission’s rules by revoking platforms’ Section 230 immunity to lawsuits should they not, to the detriment of both the Internet and child safety. “Disincentivizing moderation, adding excessive bureaucracy, and forgetting the vital role of cybersecurity,” they write, “is not how we will protect children in the cybersphere.”
Jeff Westling also wrote an article response to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the EARN IT Act. He criticizes the bill’s effect of limiting online platform immunity under Section 230, arguing that “removing these protections may actually make the challenge of combating CSAM more difficult, while potentially limiting key privacy tools, such as encryption.”
VACCINES FOR PATENT ABUSE — Charles Duan filed several amicus curiae briefs with courts, calling on them to rein in abusive patent practices. In the Intel v. Fortress litigation in which Intel accuses an aggressive patent troll of anticompetitive behavior, R Street’s brief explains how “weak” patents, the questionable kind commonly wielded by unscrupulous patent asserters, are in fact powerful weapons against industry and competition. In CJ CheilJedang v. ITC, our brief discusses how patent attorneys play tricks with U.S. patent bureaucracy to obtain patents that monopolize more products and services than they ought to, and calls on the Supreme Court to stop such behavior. And in General Electric v. United Technologies, we argue that those who challenge “weak,” questionable patents ought to have equal rights of access to the appeals courts.
“WIRELESS” SOUNDS KINDA LIKE “VIRUS” — Tom Struble and Jeff Westling filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission on allocation of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band. Although that range of wireless frequencies was dedicated to vehicle-to-vehicle communications in 1999, that technology has not been developed in the intervening decades while other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi have blossomed. Given that many other countries already reallocate most of the 5.9 GHz band away from vehicle uses, Struble and Westling call for the FCC to “more closely harmonize the 5.9 GHz band with what other countries have done,” reallocating the band for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses.
VENTILATING REGULATORY REFORM — Writing for the Washington Examiner, Shoshana Weissmann and Courtney Joslin discuss how pressing needs for telehealth require a reexamination of regulatory burdens on that technology, including medical licensing questions and asynchronous communications. And in the Bulwark, Weissmann expands on options for regulatory reform, including those on food deliveries and parking rules. R Street has an even more extensive list of regulatory reform options available here.
TERABYTES OF TIGER KING — Westling also authored a blog post applauding Internet service providers for their efforts in keeping broadband access “robust and accessible” in a time when Americans are using broadband at unprecedented levels for teleworking and video streaming. Much credit goes to the work of the Federal Communications Commission, Westling writes, on deregulating broadband and announcing a voluntary pledge of access for all Americans.
WASHING OUR HANDS OF BAD COPYRIGHT POLICY — Charles Duan (more precisely, his fingers) made an appearance in Ars Technica’s piece on the Google v. Oracle copyright lawsuit. Oracle accuses Google of violating copyrights by reusing the Java programming interface, but as detailed in the Ars article by Timothy Lee, Duan’s research into Oracle’s historical archives revealed that Oracle got its start reusing another programming interface called SQL, created by IBM—in other words, Oracle as a startup did exactly what Oracle now says is illegal. Duan previously broke a story that Oracle’s current use of Amazon’s programming interfaces contradicts Oracle’s copyright positions.