Senate bill would create federal watchdog for Big Tech

The agency could address controversial topics like algorithmic bias.

Senator Michael Bennet introduced a bill on Thursday that would create a federal watchdog for oversight of Big Tech companies, allowing the new agency to address controversial issues such as algorithmic bias and transparency in content moderation. .

The Colorado Democrat’s bill comes as tech giants face intense scrutiny from both sides of the aisle in Congress, which has generated high-profile hearings and contradictory rhetoric, but has struggled to pass legislation.

The latest push for reform follows a series of explosive revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as well as an agreement among European Union lawmakers on a landmark law that would tightly regulate the sector. The Washington Post first reported Bennet’s bill.

“As a country, we should be proud that most of the world’s leading tech companies were founded in America. But they are no longer start-ups. Today, they rank among the most powerful corporations in human history,” Bennet said in a statement Thursday.

“It is high time for a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to the regulation of digital platforms which have acquired extraordinary power over our economy, our society and our democracy,” he added.

The new agency would develop and enforce rules that regulate corporate conduct, mimicking the role played by watchdogs that police pharmaceutical drugs or media standards, according to a summary of the bill provided by Bennett’s office.

The bill provides for the formation of the five-member Federal Digital Platform Commission, which would hold hearings, conduct investigations and implement new rules. The agency would also include a Code Council made up of people from industry and civil society who can offer additional technical expertise, the bill’s summary says.

The bill will likely face a tough road to passage in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow 50-50 majority due to a possible tiebreak vote by Vice President Kamala Harris. While some Republicans have criticized big tech companies for their perceived anti-conservative bias and other flaws, they have also shown reluctance to expand federal regulatory reach.

Meanwhile, some Big Tech executives have expressed support for an industry regulatory agency like the one outlined in the bill. During a congressional hearing in March 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned a new agency “could be very effective and positive in helping.” Microsoft Chairman Brad Smith at a privacy summit last month signaled his endorsement of such a watchdog.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), headed by big tech lawyer and critic Lina Khan, serves as the major regulatory agency for tech giants. Last July, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling on the FTC to develop rules on data collection and challenging past corporate mergers. But regulatory progress at the agency remains limited.

In a separate effort from the Biden administration, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Google for alleged antitrust violations.

Current watchdogs have proven insufficient to meet the new challenges posed by the tech industry, said Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who called the bill “historic.”

“Our existing regulatory agencies were built in the industrial age on industrial age concepts, and the challenge for 21st century regulators is: how to take laws built in response to entirely different realities and relate them to this what’s happening in the digital world?” said Wheeler, who previously called for the formation of such a watchdog.

“Let’s create an agency that is inherently digital,” he added.

Norman D. Briggs