Tuesday will be the latest congressional grilling of the tech industry’s alleged faults, with the spotlight on Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko and allegations that the social media company’s sloppy procedures have jeopardized users’ privacy and data security.
Hearings have been held in Congress for years to highlight lawmakers’ complaints about Silicon Valley, ranging from the susceptibility of tech platforms to Russian meddling in the 2016 election to the allegations made against Facebook by whistleblower Frances Haugen last year, which received widespread media coverage. However, legislators’ efforts to reform the business have had few tangible results.
After Zatko speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee, some seasoned players in Washington’s cyber warfare believe not much will change. Director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, Jessica Melugin, is in favor of legislative monitoring. The institute is known for being skeptical of new tech laws.
However, in the last few years, congressional hearings have featured more theatrics than content, and this is especially true of hearings centered on technological issues. And considering this is an election year, you should expect that number to increase significantly.
Some people aren’t so doubtful. Committee member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) had her general counsel for competition and digital policy, Avery Gardiner, say at a press conference on Monday that Zatko’s testimony might be “a tremendous catalyst for reform.”
Although, Public Knowledge’s senior policy counsel and data privacy specialist Sara Collins agreed that people shouldn’t have high hopes for Tuesday’s meeting.
Collins, whose organization backs many of the bipartisan tech-crackdown proposals currently circulating in Congress, said, “This is not going to be like, game-changing.” Collins claims senators should already be familiar with how to solve the privacy and security concerns identified by Zatko because of the numerous previous hearings on the same topics.
Her statement that “there are no privacy protections in the United States” rings true. It all boils down to the same thing, after all. That is to say, we are aware of a solution. Just take us there already. Please.”It wasn’t until 2017 that there were any headline-making tech hearings including high-profile CEOs or whistleblowers.
But everything changed when it became clear that the Russian government had supported a widespread hacking and disinformation campaign across major U.S. tech platforms in order to influence the 2016 presidential election, ultimately with the goal of helping to elect Donald Trump as president, as was later concluded by intelligence leaders and lawmakers from both parties.
In October of 2017, Senators dragged officials from Facebook, Google, and Twitter before a Judiciary panel, marking the beginning of a new era of legislative oversight.
Soon after, whistleblower Christopher Wylie exposed Facebook’s unauthorized sharing of user data with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, setting off a whirlwind of activity on Capitol Hill over the company’s tech policy.
This news caused an uproar in the media around the world, and in April of 2018, Mark Zuckerberg testified before a joint session of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, an unusual arrangement that prompted lawmakers to ask Zuckerberg a variety of questions about Facebook’s business model that was widely ridiculed.