Unite to hold tech accountable


U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House January 5, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President Joe Biden called on Republicans and Democrats in Congress to unite and pass legislation that places new guardrails on the tech industry, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday that the administration’s current authority to rein in Big Tech isn’t enough.

“We need bipartisan action from Congress to hold Big Tech accountable,” Biden wrote.

The op-ed is one of the most pointed calls yet from the president for Congress to take action on topics including digital privacy, competition and online safety. The White House has previously voiced support for legislative efforts tackling these issues and installed progressive enforcers in key agencies. But as the last Congress drew to a close, the most ambitious tech proposals that had gained some momentum earlier in the year remained in limbo.

Biden’s call for bipartisanship on tech issues is notable since the split Congress will complicate the landscape for passing legislation in any domain. The decision to focus the op-ed on tech suggests it may be a rare area of hope for progress while working across the aisle.

Biden focused on three key areas of tech legislation he hopes to see this Congress. First, he urged lawmakers to pass federal privacy protections that limit the collection of sensitive data and advocated for banning targeted advertising to children altogether.

Next, he reiterated a more tempered version of a call he made on the campaign trail in 2020 to “fundamentally reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” the law that protects online platforms from being held liable for their users’ posts while preserving their ability to moderate such content. He also called for more transparency around the algorithms tech companies use to determine what information users see to ensure they are not pushing unsafe content to kids or discriminating against groups of users.

Finally, Biden called for “fairer rules of the road” when it comes to competition in the tech sector.

“When tech platforms get big enough, many find ways to promote their own products while excluding or disadvantaging competitors — or charge competitors a fortune to sell on their platform,” he wrote. “My vision for our economy is one in which everyone — small and midsized businesses, mom-and-pop shops, entrepreneurs — can compete on a level playing field with the biggest companies.”

Biden emphasized throughout the piece the particular need to protect children on the internet, referencing a line he made in his State of the Union speech last year, writing, “We must hold social-media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.”

“There will be many policy issues we disagree on in the new Congress, but bipartisan proposals to protect our privacy and our children; to prevent discrimination, sexual exploitation, and cyberstalking; and to tackle anticompetitive conduct shouldn’t separate us,” Biden wrote. “Let’s unite behind our shared values and show the nation we can work together to get the job done.”

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