Policymakers and candidates of both parties have increased their focus on how technology is changing society, including by blaming platforms and other participants in the tech ecosystem for a range of social ills even while recognizing them as significant contributors to U.S. economic success globally.  Republicans and Democrats have significant interparty—and intraparty—differences in the form of their grievances and on many of the remedial measures to combat the purported harms.  Nonetheless, the growing inclination to do more on tech has apparently driven one key congressional committee to have compromised on previously intractable issues involving data privacy.  Rules around the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence, which have attracted numerous legislative proposals in recent years, may be the next area of convergence. 

While influential members of both parties have pointed to the promise and peril of the increasing role of algorithms and artificial intelligence in American life, they have tended to raise different concerns.  Legislative proposals from Democrats have frequently focused how deployment of algorithms and artificial intelligence affects protected classes, while Republican proposals have largely, but not exclusively, been aimed at perceived unfairness in how algorithms treat Republicans and those expressing conservative views.  For instance, Republican Whip John Thune (R-SD), the former chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, has sponsored the Political BIAS Emails Act (S. 4409), which would address technology companies reportedly filtering Republican campaign emails.  Meanwhile, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Algorithmic Accountability Act (S. 3572) that, among other things, requires that “automated decision systems” be subject to an “evaluation of any differential performance associated with consumers’ race, color, sex, gender, age, disability, religion, family status, socioeconomic status, or veteran status.”

One of the most interesting developments is the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act.  The proposal, announced last year by Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would primarily require platforms to provide data for approved research projects.  There is a growing belief, particularly in academia, that additional research on real-world applications of artificial intelligence and other technologies should be undertaken before policy is set.  The proposal also includes a novel safe harbor that immunizes platforms from liability for releasing data for qualifying research.  Though the proposal has yet to be formally introduced, requiring additional transparency could be the next step forward in Congress.      

There are further signs of general agreement between the parties as well.  The Filter Bubble Transparency Act (S. 2024), which Senator Thune also introduced, has an equal number of Republican and Democratic cosponsors.  That legislation would impose disclosure and consumer choice requirements on platforms that use so-called “opaque algorithms.”  Additionally, this past Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on “Disrupting Dangerous Algorithms” and “Protecting Kids Online,” which yielded bipartisan legislation in the Kids Online Safety Act (S. 3663), sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).  Key provisions of that legislation include requirements that technology platforms provide an option for users to “opt out of algorithmic recommendation systems that use a minor’s personal data,” “notice about whether . . . any algorithmic recommendation systems used by the platform . . . pose any heightened risks of harm to a minor,” and public reporting on how “algorithmic recommendation systems and targeted advertising systems can contribute to harms to minors.”  The Senate Commerce Committee  approved of the legislation in July with broad bipartisan support.    Efforts to legislate in the area of algorithms and artificial intelligence are likely to continue next Congress, no matter which party controls either or both chambers.  While legislative inaction is almost always the safest bet, the predicates are in place for some sort of agreement in this space. 

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Photo of Nicholas Xenakis Nicholas Xenakis

Nick Xenakis draws on his Capitol Hill experience to provide regulatory and legislative advice to clients in a range of industries, including technology. He has particular expertise in matters involving the Judiciary Committees, such as intellectual property, antitrust, national security, immigration, and criminal…

Nick Xenakis draws on his Capitol Hill experience to provide regulatory and legislative advice to clients in a range of industries, including technology. He has particular expertise in matters involving the Judiciary Committees, such as intellectual property, antitrust, national security, immigration, and criminal justice.

Nick joined the firm’s Public Policy practice after serving most recently as Chief Counsel for Senator Dianne Feinstein (C-DA) and Staff Director of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee, where he was responsible for managing the subcommittee and Senator Feinstein’s Judiciary staff. He also advised the Senator on all nominations, legislation, and oversight matters before the committee.

Previously, Nick was the General Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he managed committee staff and directed legislative and policy efforts on all issues in the Committee’s jurisdiction. He also participated in key judicial and Cabinet confirmations, including of an Attorney General and two Supreme Court Justices. Nick was also responsible for managing a broad range of committee equities in larger legislation, including appropriations, COVID-relief packages, and the National Defense Authorization Act.

Before his time on Capitol Hill, Nick served as an attorney with the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. There he represented indigent clients charged with misdemeanor, felony, and capital offenses in federal court throughout all stages of litigation, including trial and appeal. He also coordinated district-wide habeas litigation following the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States (invalidating the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act).

Brendan Parets

Brendan Parets helps organizations resolve their most sensitive problems involving legal, political, and public relations challenges. He deploys his experiences in a Senate leadership office, as the chief legal officer for a presidential campaign, and representing organizations in Department of Justice and administrative…

Brendan Parets helps organizations resolve their most sensitive problems involving legal, political, and public relations challenges. He deploys his experiences in a Senate leadership office, as the chief legal officer for a presidential campaign, and representing organizations in Department of Justice and administrative investigations and in civil litigation to provide holistic advice that reflects business and political imperatives.

Brendan represents corporations and individuals facing congressional and administrative investigations. He also assists organizations with policy matters before Congress and counsels corporations, non-profit entities, and political committees on compliance with federal and state campaign finance laws.

Brendan rejoined Covington after serving as Chief Counsel to Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ), where he oversaw Senator McSally’s work on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Brendan also managed judiciary, commerce, telecommunications, tax, and trade issues for Senator McSally. He worked closely with Senate leadership, committees of jurisdiction, and executive branch agencies to achieve bipartisan compromise on judicial nominations, reform of Department of Homeland Security grant programs, and trade disputes.

He previously served as Chief Counsel to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Policy Counsel to the Senate Republican Policy Committee, a Senate leadership office chaired at the time by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and as Chief Counsel to Senator Lindsey Graham’s presidential campaign.