Federal Tech Legislation to Watch

Proposed tech-centric legislation tackles everything from smart vehicle safety and consumer drones to police shooting data collection.

by / September 11, 2015

The Iran nuclear deal and the spectacle that has become the 2016 race for the Oval Office may have gobbled up most of the airtime coming out of Washington D.C., but several pieces of tech-centric legislation are also worth watching.

From smart car connectivity to remote-controlled unmanned aircraft, Congress is looking at a host of proposed national legislation. Whether any of it will make it through is anybody’s guess.  

Addressing “Smart Cars” and Their Built-in Vulnerabilities

The growing prevalence of “smart cars” was the basis for the SPY Car Act, or Security and Privacy in Your Car Act. Senators Ed Markey, D-Maine, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, proposed the legislation in a response to widely publicized vehicle hacking vulnerabilities. The proposed legislation was introduced July 21, 2015, following a spate of staged vehicle hacks that went viral in national media outlets. Under the legislation, vehicle manufacturers would be subject to technological safety standards. 

Proponents have likened the legislation to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, which established safety standards for the automotive industry, but critics argue vehicle manufacturers are more than capable of addressing the concerns without government involvement. 

The bill would direct the Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to oversee and enforce security standards across the industry after 2017. On July 21, the bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where it currently sits.

Linking Connected Vehicles to Infrastructure

The Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Safety Technology Investment Flexibility Act of 2015 (S. 1499) is another piece of legislation aimed at the increasingly popular smart car. The proposal, introduced in June by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, would pull focus to linking vehicles with infrastructure for the purposes of reducing traffic collisions and traffic congestion and improving vehicle safety. By establishing vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) networks, drivers could be alerted to traffic ahead, approaching emergency vehicles and delays.  

If passed, the federal legislation would allow states to use existing transportation funds from the National Highway Performance Program and Surface Transportation Program to invest in technologies that would allow connection with the vehicles and drivers using infrastructure. According to a press release issued by the office of bill cosponsor Sen. Roy Blunt’s, R-Missouri, the technology has the potential to reduce 80 percent of vehicle accidents involving unimpaired drivers once the technology is fully implemented. 

Since its introduction, the bill has been read twice and was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, where it currently sits.

Consumer Protection through Data Breach Notification

The Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015 (H.R. 1770), introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, would establish consumer protection requirements for companies and nonprofits who handle sensitive, unencrypted personal data. As part of the legislation, data handlers would be required to notify affected customers who might be at risk of financial harm or identity theft following a data breach. 

The proposal, like others of its kind in Congress this year, follows what many see as a growing trend in data breaches throughout the private and public sectors, which had sweeping implications for the public and consumers. 

The bill would also require data handlers to notify federal authorities, namely the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Secret Service or Federal Bureau of Investigation, if more than 10,000 individuals were potentially affected by a data intrusion. Under these circumstances, the legislation would also require the notification of consumer reporting agencies.

Under the proposal, an education element would be aimed at small businesses. If passed, the law would charge the FTC with not only enforcing against violations with the help of states, but also would also require them to outline best data security practices through an online portal. 

Since its introduction, the bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

Taking a Swat at America’s Drone Problem

Hobby drones have been making national news since they first came on the scene, and the news hasn’t always been positive. Their pilots have forced the grounding of firefighting aircrafts, caused dangerous situations with passenger planes and owners have even found ways to install firearms. On the balance, it’s no surprise lawmakers are taking a stab at new rules for the estimated 1 million hobby drones buzzing around in American skies. The Consumer Drone Safety Act (S. 1608) was introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, in June 2015 to help alleviate these issues — or most of them.

Under the proposed law, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would be charged with outlining new guidelines for the devices. These rules would include the establishment of a maximum altitude, restricted areas and conditions, and new manufacturing rules. If the proposal becomes law, the FAA would have 18 months to publish the final rule for domestic and imported drone manufacturers. These policies would address software and technology, means of preventing and identifying drones in areas like airports, autonomous landing capabilities, and educational materials for consumers.

Since its introduction, the bill has been read twice and was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Tracking Violent Encounters Between Police and Citizens

In June 2015, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, introduced the Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence Act of 2015 (S. 1476), also known as the PRIDE Act. Due to increased tension between police officers and the public centered on national events like the 2014 shooting death of the Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests that followed, the legislation would require the collection of data regarding violent interactions between citizens and law enforcement. 

The information collected under the proposed legislation would include shootings between civilians and officers, use of force resulting in serious bodily injury, and would also require agencies to report the age, race, gender and circumstances of incidents. The U.S. Attorney General would be responsible for auditing the data provided by various agencies, as well as compiling a public report of the data for review.

Since the bill's introduction, it has been read twice and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.