With help from Leah Nylen and John Hendel
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— Privacy state-of-play: New state-level privacy bills are up for consideration on both sides of the country — momentum that could make the matter even more urgent for the 117th Congress.
— Amid industry fears about a 5G labor shortage: Sen. John Thune and bipartisan Senate Commerce colleagues will reintroduce a bill today aimed at better training workers in the skills required to build next-gen 5G networks.
— Tangled in the past: A top contender for FTC commissioner made her name by highlighting potential antitrust violations by Amazon — a matter the agency is now investigating. Could her past create a conflict of interest in the present?
HAPPY GROUNDHOG TUESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine. One of my biggest-ever scoops was this Groundhog Day story revealing that Staten Island Chuck (full name: Charles G. Hogg VII) — the country’s No. 2 groundhog-to-watch, behind only Punxsutawney Phil — was actually female.
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STATE PRIVACY PUSH QUIETLY BUBBLES UP — Just outside Washington, D.C., where federal privacy legislation talks are (still) slow-moving, Virginia’s legislature is advancing its own comprehensive privacy bill. The Consumer Data Protection Act — comprised of companion Senate and House bills, both introduced in January — would create privacy rules for companies that control or process people’s data. The bill would give consumers the power to pull their personal data from those entities and opt out of having it used for advertising purposes. And it would apply to businesses that either handle the data of more than 100,000 consumers or that make more than half of their gross revenue by selling people’s data, among other specifications.
— Sound familiar? Virginia’s legislation shares elements of another closely watched state privacy bill, the Washington Privacy Act, including individuals’ right to know and delete personal information that companies have gathered on them. The Washington legislature also kicked off talks on the latest version of the bill in January (after it failed to pass last year).
— Reading between the lines: What states do could inform what happens in Congress. As privacy and data protection issues grow during the pandemic, and in the absence of nationwide legislation, states continue to take matters into their own hands — a dominoing that began largely with California, which enacted the strongest data privacy law in the country just over a year ago. But action at the state level, which is only expected to pick up momentum, could also prompt Congress to move faster on its own privacy framework.
TODAY: WE MEET AGAIN, 5G WORKFORCE LEGISLATION — Thune (R-S.D.) and several Senate Commerce members will today reintroduce a new version of his bipartisan bill from last year, S. 3355, aimed at encouraging apprenticeships to grow a workforce adept at building 5G wireless networks and calling for a GAO assessment.
— Second time’s a charm, but there are key differences this time around: Last year’s bill called for the Labor secretary to issue guidance on how to bolster these workforce efforts, in consultation with the FCC chair. This latest version now puts the FCC chair in charge of doing so, in consultation with the Labor secretary, and specifies that such guidance must be issued within nine months of the bill’s enactment. The new measure also expands the interagency working group and puts the FCC, not Labor, in charge.
MUSK TEASES FIRST ALL-CIVILIAN VOYAGE TO SPACE — SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed plans Monday to send four humans — including a fellow tech billionaire — into space at the end of this year. Jared Isaacman, the CEO of a fintech company that supports hotels and restaurants, is taking the trip as part of a charitable effort to raise hundreds of millions for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
PROSPECTIVE FTC COMMISSIONER’S ‘PREJUDGMENT’ PROBLEM — A number of anti-monopoly progressive groups are talking up Lina Khan for FTC commissioner. Khan, who is now at Columbia Law School, was a key staffer on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee’s recent antitrust probe. But she made a name for herself with a 2017 Yale Law Review article outlining potential antitrust violations by Amazon. The article sparked widespread debate over Amazon’s practices, which the Judiciary panel explored in its report and the FTC is also investigating.
— So what? If Khan were to become a commissioner, her prior work on Amazon could prove problematic. Under the FTC’s rules, a company can move to disqualify a commissioner from a probe on grounds of “prejudgment.” But the bar for removal is high: courts have found that a company must show that “a disinterested observer may conclude that [the commissioner] has in some measure adjudged the facts as well as the law of a particular case in advance of hearing it.” Few companies succeed in disqualifying commissioners, though former FTC Commissioner Julie Brill recused herself in 2013 from LabMD’s case after the company sought to disqualify her.
— Counting votes: Given the current composition of the FTC — where Republican Commissioners Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson have voted against recent antitrust cases (see Facebook and the recent Impax suit) — a recusal by one of the three Democratic members could leave the agency without enough votes to pursue a potential Amazon case.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, E&C’s Republican leader, announced that Kate O’Connor will remain chief counsel of the communications and tech subcommittee; Tim Kurth will remain chief counsel of the consumer protection subcommittee; Mary Martin will remain chief counsel of the energy and climate change subcommittees; and Grace Graham will become chief counsel of the health subcommittee and McMorris Rodgers’ chief advisor on health policy.
And Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Homeland Security chair, announced the Democratic members of the panel and subcommittee leaders, including Rep. Elissa Slotkin as chair of the subcommittee on counterterrorism and Rep. Yvette Clarke as chair of the subcommittee on cybersecurity and innovation.
Will Adams, a former FCC legal adviser, has joined T-Mobile’s government affairs team as vice president of strategic policy and planning; the company also brought on the National Urban League’s Clint Odom, who’s previously worked with now-Vice President Kamala Harris and acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. … L3Harris Technologies, a global aerospace and defense technology innovator, has joined the GPS Innovation Alliance. … Consumer Reports is teaming up with Craig Newmark Philanthropies and Omidyar Network to double down on its work around consumer privacy and data rights. … Texting platform Hustle has acquired the mobile video stories platform Tape. … The FCC has entered into an agreement with the National Science Foundation and NTIA to support the foundation’s Spectrum Innovation Initiative.
Eyeballs watching emoji: Robinhood is looking to hire a federal affairs manager in Washington, and TikTok is looking to hire a policy and safety communications manager in Washington.
Musk meddles in GameStop saga: The Tesla and SpaceX CEO took to Clubhouse, “an exclusive audio app that’s become popular with an elite set of Silicon Valley-ites,” to grill Robinhood CEO Vladimir Tenev on his decision to freeze trading for GameStop, WaPo reports. (The Robinhood CEO is expected to testify before Congress on Feb. 18, POLITICO reports.)
More on Clubhouse: “Black creatives helped turn Clubhouse into the next tech unicorn. But who stands to gain?” via The LA Times.
In profile: Alondra Nelson, the country’s first deputy director for science and society. “She exposed tech’s impact on people of color. Now, she’s on Biden’s team,” Protocol reports.
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