LAS VEGAS–Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress expressed optimism that tech policy will have bipartisan cooperation, in a panel at the 2017 CES Government conference.
“I think that our constituents expect us to be as collaborative as they are,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
“This is going to continue to be a bipartisan issue,” agreed Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, adding that collaboration efforts like that of his work with Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on a technology acquisition bill in the last Congress would continue. “This is something that I think is going to continue and will allow us in a Republican unified government to focus on the government reform part.”
Hurd also expressed optimism that these reforms would streamline some of the rules that prevent the government from implementing new and innovative technologies, like those at CES, into its operations.
Another area of widespread agreement was that of protecting encryption from legal requests for backdoors, an argument that stemmed from FBI requests that Apple give them a means of accessing the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone as part of the law enforcement investigation.
“The way to respond to that, I believe, and it seems that there is bipartisan consensus on this, is not to make all of us less safe by requiring a backdoor, but is to make sure that the FBI, CIA, or NSA have the best tools,” said Swalwell, explaining that weakening encryption would simply drive bad actors onto foreign-made, heavily encrypted messaging services while weakening the services of the everyday American.
“We can chase bad guys, defend digital infrastructure, and protect our civil liberties all at the same time. It’s hard,” said Hurd. “The answer is obvious, encryption is good.”
“That’s going to be one of the major things that we’re going to be picking up, because there are forces that want us to create a backdoor on encryption so that government can have unfettered access quickly should they need it for national security reasons,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “Now, if that doesn’t scare a lot of people in this room, then you need to look up how you encrypt your products.”
Issa added that one of his major goals for the upcoming Congress will be to improve the tech workforce in America, so that the innovators aren’t struggling to get the workers they need.
“Going into this Congress, my agenda is fairly simple. We have some areas of the economy that need our help: 1.2 million people every year come into this country legally as immigrants, and yet we cannot even get enough highly skilled, highly prepared workers to keep the best and the brightest able to continue innovating, because we cannot get enough of those people. Out of 1.2 million that get to come in, we don’t get enough H-1B’s when we need them for high-tech jobs,” said Issa. “There’s a problem. Only the government can fix it.”
Swalwell, who agreed that the tech industry offers a lot of potential for increasing the skilled workforce, added that the government should work to invest in tech education for areas that aren’t necessarily tech centers, so that the incoming workforce has the skills to fill available jobs in the future.
Initiatives such as these have already seen support from Republican legislators, as Hurd championed an initiative in December that would provide middle school teachers in his own district with the tools to incorporate coding into their regular math classes.