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Election security, privacy, and AI concerns among top tech topics looming in 2024 – Washington Examiner


This year has been a full one for tech policy turmoil, with controversies including the changing role of artificial intelligence, the struggle over content moderation, concerns about keeping children safe on social media, and efforts to limit the market power of Big Tech.

In 2024, we will likely see new developments in all of those fights but will add in new hot-button topics, including the revived push for net neutrality regulations and the debate over the tech sector’s role in what is already shaping up to be a knockdown brawl of an election year.

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Here are 10 prominent tech topics to watch for in 2024.

Elections and tech

AI will certainly be part of the political controversies of 2024 as campaigns look for new ways to exploit the technologies to gain an advantage with voters. But just as certainly, government officials and lawmakers will be debating proposals to restrict the use of AI in campaigns as the long-running fight over election misinformation intensifies again.

The same goes for the debate on social media platforms’ divergent political advertising policies as new challenges and opportunities in technology continue to shape the democratic process.

Also, look for candidates to weigh in on the tech policy questions of the day. President Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party, has a well-established record on most tech policy topics. He either directed his agencies or signed executive orders supporting antitrust action against major technology firms, a return of net neutrality regulations for broadband networks, and increased government oversight of AI. Biden has publicly stated his support for a repeal of the social media liability shield, known as Section 230, and for Congress to pass laws addressing online child safety.

The front-runner for the Republican nomination, former President Donald Trump, has called for the repeal of Section 230, federal legal action to break up Big Tech companies, and the need to exert federal control over the sector, as was evident from his unsuccessful effort as president to force the sale of TikTok to a U.S. owner.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), 2024 GOP nominee hopeful, has taken aggressive action on tech policy in his state, including championing and then signing a law that, if it survives a U.S. Supreme Court challenge, would restrict social media companies’ right to remove third-party content from their sites. DeSantis has called for Google to be broken up and has written in his recent book about “reining in Big Tech.” DeSantis signed state bills into law that limited the use of TikTok on government devices and in public schools. At the same time, Florida spent more than $10 million in semiconductor subsidies on DeSantis’s watch to lure more tech jobs to the Sunshine State.

Nikki Haley, also hoping to clinch the Republican presidential nomination, has not taken a public position on Section 230 or efforts to break up Big Tech companies but has called for an outright ban of TikTok. The former South Carolina governor has also floated, but then partially walked back, a plan to ban anonymous posts on social media. Haley, who was the Trump administration U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for nearly two years, also has slammed semiconductor subsidies. U.S. firms should compete in the marketplace and not be given “corporate handouts,” Haley said.

Artificial intelligence

President Biden issued a 111-page executive order directing more than a dozen federal agencies to address artificial intelligence in their work. It also requires some amount of reporting for developers of foundational models that pose a national security, economic security, or national public health and safety risk. Those measures will start going into effect in 2024.

On the regulatory front, Congress will continue to consider intervening with the twin goals of making the technology safe without hamstringing it in the race against China for global superiority.

In the coming year, Congress will try to move from hearings and informational meetings with top tech CEOs on AI to trying to pass proposed bills into law. Concerns over the technology appear to be bipartisan, but AI’s fast-moving nature and Congress’s track record for slow action may make moving legislation difficult.

Supreme Court weighs in on state online content moderation laws

In the coming year, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments and rule on twin challenges to state laws on content moderation for the biggest social media companies. Florida’s and Texas’s laws differ in their details, but both aim to restrict sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube from removing or deemphasizing posts made by their users. Industry trade groups claim these laws are unconstitutional infringements on the platform’s freedom of speech. While many in the court’s conservative majority have taken hard lines on free speech topics, including the rights of corporations, the justices are in some uncharted territory here.

Children and online safety

States were very active in 2023 in passing and introducing safety measures for children online, such as age verification, parental access, and time restrictions. Expect lawmakers in D.C. to try to mimic those efforts in 2024. But since many of those state laws are being challenged on constitutional grounds in court, Washington will need to tailor its approach to avoiding the same pitfalls of state bills. Watch for efforts to tie future online children’s legislation to passing a broader federal privacy law.

Big Tech antitrust trials continue

The first of two federal antitrust trials against Google was tried this fall and will likely be decided in 2024. It involves the company’s dominance in online searches and whether it has acted illegally to stifle competition. A second suit, involving Google’s online advertising business, will begin early next year. The Federal Trade Commission’s case against Amazon along some similar lines may head to court next year, but the case may not be decided within the calendar year. The FTC’s case seeking to unwind the acquisition by Meta (then Facebook) of Instagram will be heard in February 2024.

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Net neutrality returns

Biden had long called for the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate the Obama-era net neutrality regulations in his broader executive order on increasing competition in the U.S. economy. It took until fall 2023 for the FCC to vote to proceed with the plan to reclassify broadband services as common carriers such as telephone companies, subject to increased oversight and regulation. If their efforts are ultimately successful, consumers could see the consequences of the policy in 2024. Supporters claim those will consist of lower prices, but critics argue net neutrality will slow innovation and decrease industry investment.

Wildcard

The biggest tech policy lesson from 2023 has been from AI’s meteoric rise from little-known technology to the hottest tech topic for policymakers. Before ChatGPT’s Nov. 30, 2022, release, relatively few lawmakers and regulators had ever given any thought to AI, but it’s become ubiquitous in policy circles in Washington and state capitals. Who knows what paradigm-shifting innovation from the tech world 2024 may bring?





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