Kovacevich: Rep. Lofgren is right—tech policy should focus on protecting consumers
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is pictured counting electoral votes for the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo courtesy of Lofgren's office.

In Washington, D.C., many policymakers are taking a “ready, fire, aim” approach to tech policy.

In a misguided attempt to cross “regulate Big Tech” off their agenda before the midterm elections, they’ve decided to overlook how new laws would hurt consumers and what voters want. It’s become a badge of honor to see who can develop the toughest legislation, with little regard for the impact on the millions of Americans who use these services.

Fortunately, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) has pursued a different, consumer-first approach to tech legislation. When Congress has gone off the rails with bad tech policy, she’s spoken up. At the same time, she’s taken a no-holds-barred approach to defending consumer privacy and security while cracking back at misinformation online.

She’s listening to voters. A recent poll conducted by our organization, Chamber of Progress, asked California voters what tech policies are most important to them. The number one response? Online security and protection against malware and scams. After that, Californians highlighted issues related to misinformation and content online, as well as data privacy.

On each of these issues, Lofgren has taken a leadership role in Congress.

When it comes to online privacy, Lofgren has worked with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Mountain View) to introduce sweeping privacy legislation. Their Online Privacy Act would create clear user data rights and create an enforcement regime to make sure the tech sector plays by the rules.

Perhaps no member of Congress has been more outspoken in calling out the far-right’s election misinformation than Congresswoman Lofgren. In March of last year, she published a massive 2,000 page report documenting how Republican Members of Congress amplified election lies. She took some heat from the GOP, but efforts like this are an important part of debunking falsehoods and keeping the record straight.

And on cybersecurity, Lofgren is a hawk. Over the past year, she’s voted for a slate of cybersecurity legislation to strengthen critical infrastructure and defenses against hackers. That’s not to mention the many years she has spent spearheading legislation to protect individuals from government snooping online.

That’s the Lofgren approach to tech policy: targeted at addressing top voter priorities. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the techlash legislators.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is backing new European regulations that single out American tech companies, giving foreign competitors a leg up. And Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are leading a bill that would ban major tech companies from offering integrated services. That includes services as intuitive as FaceTime being pre-installed on iPhones, or Google Maps appearing in Google search results. Amazon has said the bill would seriously degrade services such as Amazon Prime.

Of course, breaking Amazon Prime and banning Google Maps integration are nowhere near a voter priority. In fact, our polling found just 4% of respondents wanted lawmakers to prioritize banning integrated services.

Fortunately, lawmakers including Lofgren are listening and advocating for a more measured approach. She recently told the Washington Post that the Klobuchar/Grassley bill “misses the mark.” And Reps. Ted Lieu (D-L.A.) and Eric Swalwell (D-East Bay) raised serious concerns about the legislation as well.

With midterm elections around the corner, more lawmakers should be adopting Lofgren’s consumer-first approach to policy making. Breaking Amazon Prime or degrading security on the iPhone might win points with a few anti-tech advocates, but at the end of the day, tackling the big issues of cybersecurity and privacy are what’s needed to win support from voters.

Adam Kovacevich is the founder of Chamber of Progress, a tech industry policy coalition promoting technology’s progressive future. Adam was raised in the Central Valley, and has worked at the intersection of tech and politics for 20 years.

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