7 Tech Policy Issues to Watch in 2016

States across the country are taking a look at technology legislation and grappling with everything from 3-D printed firearms, to student and employee data privacy.

Nationwide, state legislators are increasingly looking at the opportunities and problems associated with technology. While some states struggle with the growing trend of hobby drones, others focus their attention to the rise of at-home manufacturing and the ability to "print" a gun. Others still have privacy on their minds as law enforcement agencies come to terms with new capabilities and threats. The following proposals are only a fraction of a larger tech-centric policy discussions happening in the United States, but they offer an interesting look into some of the issues facing lawmakers today. 

1. California Proposes Another Drone Law

In California, legislation to further regulate drones has been a topic of much discussion. After the FAA launched its own regulatory registration rules in late 2015, a Southern California lawmaker proposed a rule that would require drone owners to not only register their units, but insure them as well.

The Drone Registration/Omnibus Negligence-prevention Enactment (DRONE) Act, proposed by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, was announced in January 2016 and would require hobbyists to obtain a physical or electronic license plate for identification purposes; pay a small insurance fee at the time of purchase for any future damage or injury associated with the drone; and would require drones of a certain size to be equipped with GPS and emergency shutoff capabilities.

“If cars have license plates and insurance, drones should have the equivalent," Gatto said, "so they can be properly identified, and owners can be held financially responsible, whenever injuries, interference or property damage occurs.” 

2. New Mexico Pushes for Campaign Finance Transparency

New Mexico Rep. Jim Smith introduced legislation to update the Secretary of State’s campaign finance system to improve the transparency around elected officials and contributions to their bids for office. Under House Bill 105, the state would be required to update its electronic filing systems to provide data in “open, structured formats for easy search and download” as well as providing cross-checking and compliance features. 

On Feb. 1, the proposed legislation cleared its first big hurdle -- not a single legislator spoke out or voted against the reform in the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, KOB 4 News reported. It now moves to the House Appropriates and Finance Committee.

3. New York, California Propose Bans on Encrypted Cellphones

Lawmakers in New York are gunning for easier access into smartphones sold or leased in the state after Jan. 1, 2016.

Assembly Bill A8093, introduced last June but re-introduced in January because the Assembly took no action in 2015, would mean cellphone manufacturers and operating system providers would need to be able to unlock or decrypt the units they sell. The bill would also impose a stiff civil penalty of $2,500 for each phone sold or leased in which the seller or leaser was aware the units could not be decrypted or unlocked.

Lawmakers argue that law enforcement should have a way around the encryption in devices like Apple’s iPhone and Microsoft’s Android smartphones in cases of criminal activity, as they can play a key role in the prosecution. In fact, on Jan. 20, California Assemblyman Jim Cooper introduced Assembly Bill 1681, which nearly mirrors the New York bill.

Many have said that the rule would allow law enforcement expanded and unnecessary access to privately owned devices and the potential for government overstep.

Assembly Bill 1681 is an unconstitutional effort to force people to give up their passwords to government. Let's all stand up and fight it. — Christopher Price (@chrisprice) January 22, 2016

4. Virginia Reviews State Agency Data Collection Rules

In Virginia, lawmakers have offered a bill for consideration that focuses on data collection and public privacy.

Under the proposal, referred to as the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, data would not be collected by various state agencies secretly or without a clear need for its collection or by “fraudulent or unfair mean,” and it would not be used by an agency that was not current or accurate. The targets of data collection would be notified about the purpose of the information gathering and would be given the opportunity to amend, correct and erase “inaccurate, obsolete or irrelevant information,” and agencies holding personal information would need to “take precautions to prevent its misuse.”

The bill cites that an “individual’s privacy is directly affected by the extensive collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of person information,” and that technology has “greatly magnified the harm that can occur from these practices.”   

5. Illinois Looks at Limiting Police Cellphone Surveillance

Lawmakers in Springfield, Ill., have focused on regulating tools that allow police to surveil the cellular phones of private citizens. Under the Citizen Privacy Protection Act, introduced in late January, law enforcement would solidify limitation on the use of devices, like the Stingray, which mimics cellular towers to connect with mobile phones for data collection and tracking purposes. Agencies would need to meet probable cause requirements, obtain a court order, or provide that the subject being sought by police has committed, is committing or will commit a crime. The bill also “provides that if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a law enforcement agency used a cell site simulator to gather information in violation of the limits in the act, then the information shall be presumed to be inadmissible in any judicial or administrative proceeding.” 

6. New Jersey Proposes 3-D Gun Ban, Cybersecurity Commission

New Jersey’s Senate Bill 363 takes aim at firearms produced using 3-D printing, additive manufacturing, computer-controlled milling or laser-cutting technology, which is untraceable by metal detectors or X-ray machines. So called ghost guns, or untraceable firearms produced under the radar of Department of Justice registration rules, have exploded onto the scene with the advent of at-home manufacturing technologies. If signed into law, the bill would make it a second-degree crime to “possess, sell, offer for sale, give, assign or otherwise transfer any such firearm or firearm component.” The rule would also come with the potential for offenders to be fined up to $150,000 and five to 10 years in prison. 

Senate Bill 808 proposes the creation of a six-member New Jersey Cybersecurity Commission under the Department of Law and Public Safety, and an appropriation of $50,000. Under the legislation, the commission would be tasked with evaluating New Jersey’s “informational infrastructure” in an advisory role. The appointed commission would also be responsible for bringing the private and public sectors together, providing recommendations related to securing state networks, offering strategies to bolster the cybersecurity industry in the state, and providing cyberhygiene and awareness.

“With the critical need for secure business data, this bill attempts to cultivate conditions to attract and retain, as well as secure a competitive advantage for, cybersecurity companies in the marketplace," the legislation text reads. "Because occupations in the cybersecurity industry are among the fastest growing in the economy, this bill also seeks to capitalize on New Jersey’s dedication to education by coupling it with investment in cybersecurity."

7. Student and Employee Data Privacy in Minnesota

Introduced in late January, House Bill 2385 would prohibit employers from forcing employees or prospective employees to grant access to their personal social media accounts. Also, an employer could not force the employee to alter settings that would render privately posted material public. If the bill were signed into law, it would open employers who violated these terms to legal action on the part of the employee or potential employee.

Similarly, House Bill 2386 would prohibit educational institutions from forcing students to supply their access information to personal social media accounts. The legislation would also prohibit school employees from forcing students to alter the settings of their accounts to make information visible to the public, and thusly administrators, teachers and other staff. The bill did outline acceptable actions, which included accessing already public information, requiring students to produce content reported to the institution, among other actions. The proposed bill would open violating institutions up for legal action on the part of the affected student.

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.