State Lawmakers Mull Range of Tech-Centered Legislation

From the police use of Stingrays to the recognition of notarized blockchain tech, lawmakers across the U.S. have trained their sights on a range of IT issues.

by / June 15, 2016
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill detailing stricter insurance and reporting requirements for autonomous vehicles. David Kidd/e.Republic
Technology is steadily solidifying its place in the legislative realm at the state and national level. There is no doubt that in recent years, technology has become a top-shelf issue — up there with health care, prison reform and the like — as it becomes increasingly intertwined with citizens' daily lives and nearly all operations of government. 
 
This year, lawmakers across the country have trained their sights on a range of issues, from the police use of cell-site simulators to the recognition of notarized blockchain technology. Here’s a look at some of the pending or recently passed legislation from tech-minded states.
 
Vermont Warms to Blockchain — Some in the banking industry have been singing the praises of blockchain technology as a way to more accurately track financial transactions. But as of May 2016, Vermont is willing to recognize documentation notarized through the technology, according to a recently signed state law relating to “miscellaneous economic provisions.” Blockchain is a data structure that uses cryptography to create a digital ledger across a network of computers and users. Because of this structure, it's difficult to alter or remove data that has been entered into the ledger. The technology is an acceptable digital record if accompanied by a secondary recognized declaration. Despite the win for the technology at the state level, many argue that it is not perfect — a point that has prevented widespread adoption in both the private and public sectors.
 
Delaware Takes a Hard Look at Transportation Networks — There has been more than a little chatter around transportation network companies (TNCs), like Lyft and Uber, and how to best regulate them at the state and local level. In Delaware, lawmakers are reviewing Senate Bill 262, which is aimed at making these networking companies a safe and regulated mainstay for citizens. As it is currently worded, the legislation would modify the existing rules around TNCs to “ensure the safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness of rides provided by Transportation Network Company Drivers within the State of Delaware.” Despite some criticism from taxicab companies, drivers would not be required to obtain a special license to operate. Additionally, the vehicles would need to be clearly market for police enforcement purposes and there would be changes to TNC insurance coverage requirements. 
Pennsylvania Takes the Wheel with Autonomous Vehicle Bill —  As autonomous vehicles gain traction in the public spotlight and on populated streets, more states and localities are moving to pre-emptively regulate their operation. In Pennsylvania, stricter insurance and reporting requirements are the meat of Senate Bill 1268. Additionally, the companies, universities and individuals testing self-driving vehicles would need to get the sign-off of the state Department of Transportation. The bill, introduced May 18, 2016, will likely change in substance as it makes its way through committee, but shows some of the emerging considerations in the autonomous vehicle space. 
 
Illinois and Nebraska Question Cell-Site Simulators and Privacy — Technology, especially of the mobile variety, has brought about a lot of conversation around privacy and security. Unsurprisingly, much of the discussion revolves around law enforcement and the use of tools like the Stingray, a device that simulates a cell tower to gather data and track the location and usage of mobile devices. 
 
The so-called cell-site simulators have garnered significant media attention as their use in some cities stirred criticism and accusations of mass surveillance without due legal process. In Illinois, the Citizen Privacy Protection Act (House Bill 4470) has taken aim at stopping the use of these devices without a warrant or court order and outside of certain conditions. Under the terms of the bill, proposed in early 2016, law enforcement agencies would be required to obtain legal permissions to track cellphones and would be required to immediately delete the data collected from all nontargets. 
 
In Nebraska, the conversation is much the same. Legislative Bill 738 targeted the overall usage of the devices. Before the legislation was indefinitely postponed in April, it was geared to disallow the use of the devices within the state, and agencies that already own them would be forced to discontinue their use and discard them. 
 
Utah Mulls E-Drivers' Licenses — Among its legislative undertakings, Utah is considering a move ahead toward electronic drivers' licenses, which would likely be carried and displayed on a common smartphone. Under the terms of House Bill 227, a study is to be conducted around the viability of e-drivers' licenses as a means of driver identification. The governor signed the bill in March, and a full report and recommendations are due to the state’s Transportation Interim Committee no later than Sept. 1, 2016.
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.