#170: Tech and Tax Reform

April 20, 2017

Congress and the White House tried, and failed, to repeal and replace Obamacare. Since then, their focus has shifted to other priorities — in particular, reforming America’s tax code. It’s been decades since Congress did any significant reform, but there’s generally widespread agreement that our tax code is too long, too complicated, and riddled with loopholes. What would a lower corporate tax rate mean for tech companies and consumers? Will the proposed “border adjustment tax” mean a big adjustment for tech? Will there be winners and losers? How would reform impact domestic firms versus multinationals? Evan is joined by James Lucier, Managing Director at Capital Alpha Partners, a Washington-DC based policy research firm.


#169: The Future of Tech Policy

April 14, 2017

Is tech policy stuck in the past? Does innovation move faster than government’s ability to keep up? Are we fighting over what to do with last year’s products, when we should be planning for what lies ahead? Evan is pleased to welcome to the show Austin Carson, Executive Director at TechFreedom. Previously, he worked in Congress on a variety of tech policy issues, including encryption, cybersecurity, and intellectual property. He discusses lessons learned from his time on the Hill, where the future of tech policy is headed, and how think tanks like TechFreedom can help foster bipartisan dialogue and implement solutions to seemingly intractable problems.


#168: FBI and Facial Recognition

April 10, 2017

Would you agree to stand in a police line-up if you never committed a crime? Probably not. But if you have a drivers’ license, you might be in a perpetual, digital line-up. 18 states allow the FBI to scan your license photo, and many states allow local law enforcement to do the same. One in two American adults — that’s about 125 million people —  are in the FBI’s facial recognition database, and most, if not all, searches are conducted without a warrant.

Evan is joined by Alvaro Bedoya, Executive Director of the Center on Privacy & Technology, Georgetown Law, who testified at a recent hearing in Congress on the FBI’s use of facial recognition technologies (FRTs). They discuss the state of FRTs, how they impact different communities, and how policymakers can balance the needs of law enforcement with civil liberties and due process. For more, check out https://www.perpetuallineup.org/.


#167: The Airbnb Wars Rage On

March 29, 2017

HomeAway, Airbnb, and other short-term rental platforms are at war with cities across the country. Nashville’s Downtown has the highest hotel rate in the U.S. — even pricier than New York and San Francisco. Despite that, the city council passed a law capping the number of second homes in a neighborhood that can be rented out to tourists. In a lawsuit brought by the Beacon Center, a local think tank, the judge ruled against the city but left the door open for lawmakers to rewrite the bill. Will litigation drag on, or will the Tennessee state government step in and nullify city laws? Elsewhere, in Colorado, a patchwork of regulations illustrates the different approaches that cities are taking. Jared Meyer, Senior Research Fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, joins. For more, see his op-ed.


#166: Hacking the CIA

March 24, 2017

Earlier this month, Wikileaks published 9,000 pages of hacked CIA files. The haul, dubbed “Vault 7,” catalogues some of the spy agency’s hacking techniques, including exploits of Android and iOS phones, and even Samsung Smart TVs. When the feds discover vulnerabilities in the products we use, should they tell the companies so they can patch things up? Or does the government sometimes need to keep these things secret for national security purposes? What are the trade-offs? Evan is joined by Heather West, Senior Policy Manager for the Americas at Mozilla and Mieke Eoyang, Vice President of the National Security Program at Third Way. They discuss what Vault 7 means for encryption, the Apple v. FBI case, and the government’s “Vulnerabilities Equities Process” (VEP).

For more, see Mozilla’s primer on VEP and its statement on Vault 7.


#165: Regulating the Universe

March 21, 2017

Who's in charge of the universe? "Innovative space activities" like asteroid mining and private missions to Mars raise key questions for countries and their regulators. Can you "plant a flag" on an asteroid? How can countries cooperate in space without interfering with each other? Is the "weaponization of space" a growing concern between the US, Russia, and China? Congress is trying to figure out the answers. Evan and Berin discuss a recent hearing with Jim Dunstan, longtime space lawyer and founder of the Mobius Legal Group.


#164: Blogging in Ethiopia

March 16, 2017

Blogging in the United States isn’t risk free. You might get deluged by trolls, or even receive death threats. But it’s nothing compared to what happens in Ethiopia when bloggers find themselves on the wrong side of their government. Endalk Chala is the founder of Zone 9, named in reference to an infamous Ethiopian prison divided into eight zones — the oppressed country itself being the ninth. A doctoral journalism student at University of Oregon, Endalk founded the platform to advocate for bloggers in his home nation and foster free speech. How did his government respond? How important are encryption and other technologies in Ethiopia? Evan is joined by Endalk and Robert Chapman-Smith, producer for the series Coded, whose season finale features Zone 9.


#163: Online Sales Tax

March 10, 2017

Big-box retailers have long griped that untaxed online sales put them at a competitive disadvantage. Congress is exploring legislation to “level the playing field,” but will the solution be worse than any perceived problems caused by e-commerce? Supporters of bills like the “Marketplace Fairness Act” say that states and cities are being starved of lost revenue from Internet sales. But critics charge the bill would discriminate against Internet businesses with burdensome reporting requirements while allowing states and cities to tax people outside their borders. Is there room for common ground? What other approaches could Congress and the states pursue? Evan discusses with Steve Delbianco, Executive Director of NetChoice. For more info, see this op-ed.


#162: Should Government Pay for Broadband?

March 7, 2017

Should the government pay for broadband? In his joint address to Congress, President Trump laid out plans to spend a lot of taxpayer money on infrastructure. Many in the tech community want some of that money to go toward broadband, but will that actually help get people online? What about subsidies? Uncle Sam has long subsidized telephone service for low-income Americans. Will broadband subsidies bridge the Digital Divide? Evan is joined by Will Rinehart, Director of Tech and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum.


Will’s blog, “How Well Do Rural Broadband Subsidies Work?”
Coalition letter opposing FCC action on Lifeline
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s response on Medium


#161: Spying on the World

February 28, 2017

Innocent Americans don’t like getting spied on by their government. But should they care when their government spies on foreigners? Countries do this all the time for intelligence purposes, right? Congress even authorized our government to do this in Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.

But in the Digital Age, it’s increasingly common for large swaths of the American public to communicate with people outside the country. That leads to U.S. residents being caught in the foreign surveillance dragnet, and their communications collected without a warrant. Current laws allow the NSA and other agencies to share information with your local police department. Could you end up in jail without due process?

As Section 702 nears its December expiration date, should Congress reform the law, or just reauthorize it as is? Meanwhile, what does the European Union think? Will fears over American surveillance lead nations to “localize their Internet?” Evan is joined by Jake Laperruque, Privacy Fellow at the Constitution Project and Ashkhen Kazaryan, Legal Fellow at TechFreedom. For more, see Jake’s blog post on Section 702.