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Tech’s 2016 Congressional Agenda: How to Promote Innovation & Economic Growth

Previously I wrote that 2015 was predicted to be a year of gridlock, and yet despite deep partisanship in the nation’s capital, the tech sector saw several of our priorities passed into law. If lawmakers and the President build on that momentum, there are a number of priorities Congress could address this year to propel the growth and ingenuity of the tech sector and our economy, including:

  • Judicial Redress: Earlier this week, the Senate and House passed the Judicial Redress Act, legislation extending key privacy protections enjoyed by Americans to citizens of certain allied countries. The Judicial Redress Act is not only critical to finalizing a law enforcement information sharing agreement between the EU and U.S. (the so-called “umbrella agreement”), but it also demonstrates our country’s commitment to respecting the privacy of individuals – a critical step in the days following the conclusion of negotiations on the new EU-U.S. Privacy Shield. ITI urges the President to act quickly and sign the Judicial Redress Act into law.
  • Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA): A lot has changed since ECPA became a law in 1986. Today, email is an integral part of our daily lives and it often contains the most sensitive information about us. Email is also largely cloud-based and, rather than printing emails to store in our filing cabinet at home, we keep emails stored in folders in the cloud – sometimes for years. Under ECPA, however, emails older than 180 days do not enjoy the same Constitutional protections granted to the papers and effects we keep in our homes. If law enforcement must obtain a warrant to go through the contents of your desk drawer in your home, regardless of the age of the contents, they should also be required to obtain a warrant to access online user content, regardless of the age of that content. The Email Privacy Act provides much needed reforms to ECPA, unites 310 Members of Congress on a single policy, and is strongly supported by ITI member companies.
  • Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are a key source of intellectual property protection for our companies, but in the digital age, it has become easier to steal trade secrets through organized espionage or common criminal behavior. It is not a victimless crime because it robs our companies of the investments they make in research and development to launch new products that grow our economy. Last year, the House and Senate introduced the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015 (H.R. 3326 and S. 1890) to establish a federal, uniform civil standard for trade secret misappropriation, and early this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported the legislation by voice vote. ITI urges both chambers to pass trade secrets legislation this year.
  • Broadband: The 2014 spectrum auction netted over $40 billion and showed how hungry today’s world is for greater connectivity. Last year saw additional spectrum auctions included in the budget agreement and a number of promising spectrum-related bills were introduced in Congress. The Senate’s MOBILE NOW Act would increase access to spectrum and ease deployment of wireless networks. In the House, the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act, (Dig Once), the Federal Spectrum Incentive Auction Act, and several other bills are aimed at boosting wired and wireless broadband infrastructure investment. As we look to unleash the potential of the Internet of Things, ITI encourages lawmakers to advance these bills in the upcoming months.
  • Tax Reform: For decades our competitors have modernized their tax systems to attract investment, spur innovation and out compete the U.S. The formula they have adopted is simple: a competitive corporate tax rate, plus modern tax rules for companies engaged in global economic activity, plus robust innovation incentives. With the world’s highest corporate tax rate, today the U.S. lags behind on each front. Simply put, our tax code is broken and no longer works for today’s modern economy. We stand ready to work with policymakers to develop a tax system that makes America more competitive and a magnet for job creation and business investment.
  • Patent Reform: Unlike innovators who create, patent trolls exist to exploit flaws in our patent laws to bring frivolous, billion dollar lawsuits against startups and technology companies each year. ITI encouraged lawmakers to improve the patent legal system in order to crack down on patent trolls who are a drain on our economy. Congress should focus on passing patent reform legislation that preserves and promotes justice and puts a halt to patent trolls siphoning money away from legitimate innovation and job creation.
  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Our analysis of the TPP agreement concluded it offers tremendous growth and innovation opportunities for the tech sector and future prosperity for the U.S. economy. ITI encourages Congress to approve TPP this year because it will help supercharge the American economy for decades to come. The agreement has strong and balanced intellectual property (IP) protections, strong market access provisions, and strong protections against localization efforts – all of which are key to economic growth. It also includes, for the first time, provisions to ensure the free flow of data, safeguards for a free and open Internet and trade secrets protections.
  • High-Skilled Immigration: Immigration policy is really innovation policy, and yet, our broken immigration system holds our economy back because it is failing to meet the demands of U.S. businesses. Even as we increase our efforts and to encourage students to pursue a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, by 2018, there will be a shortage of over 223,000 advanced STEM degree workers in the United States. Until our education system can meet the need for workers, countless job vacancies will go unfilled at technology companies. We encourage Congress to seize the opportunity to accelerate economic growth by tackling high-skilled immigration reform so we can attract the best and brightest minds to come innovate in our country.

As we meet with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, these are the policies that we tell them are needed to help remove obstacles for technology companies to innovate and grow our economy. Unlike last year, 2016 is a presidential election year, and according to the congressional calendar lawmakers are currently scheduled to return to Washington for only a few weeks after July before election day. The big question will be how much Congress can accomplish in the months ahead by working together where there is common ground before presidential election year politics take over Washington’s attention.

Public Policy Tags: Broadband, Communications, & Spectrum, Tax Policy, Internet of Things, Data & Privacy, Trade & Investment, Immigration, Skills/STEM, Intellectual Property