As of today, Europe’s new sweeping Internet privacy rules have gone into effect, and companies of all sizes and all over the world that have Europeans’ data are rethinking how they collect and process user data.
Startups Oppose Senate Bill Creating Exceptions to Bedrock Internet Law. A bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation this week that would undermine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), the fundamental intermediary liability law that protects Internet companies from being held legally responsible for what their users say on their platform. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act has the admirable goal of cracking down on sex trafficking online, however, injecting an exception like this in to CDA 230 would create a huge litigation risk for early stage companies that could drastically diminish investment in the sector. While we continue to work with legislators and victims groups to curb the horrific practice of sex trafficking, Engine has opposed this legislation. If you are a startup, sign onto our letter and tell Congress not to undermine the protections that created the Internet. Also, check out our op-ed with the Charles Koch Institute on the importance of CDA 230 to the success and growth of the Internet.
Engine applauds Senators Lee and Leahy for their continued work on updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The Lee-Leahy bill will modernize the nation’s electronic privacy laws and bring protections against warrantless searches into harmony with the technological realities of today.
Alexa Accelerator Names Nine Startups for Inaugural Amazon and Techstars Program. Amazon, in partnership with Techstars, welcomed the first class of its new Alexa Accelerator. Amazon will incubate nine startups for three months, providing seed money, mentorship opportunities, and access to University of Washington researchers. The Alexa Accelerator is an initiative spun out of the Alexa Fund, and is specifically geared toward incubating startups that work on applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to voice platforms. Amazon’s Alexa product line utilizes voice recognition to allow people to interact with a robot personal assistant, and the company has been heavily investing in technology to help bolster the products.
The First Comment Period for the FCC NPRM on Net Neutrality Closes. Monday was the deadline for the first round of comments to be filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that addresses the 2015 Open Internet Order. Engine was one of over 10 million groups and individuals to file comments with the Commission. The deadline for reply comments extends to August 16. In its submission, Engine explained the need for clear regulations to protect startups from threatening behavior by ISPs and incumbents. “The NPRM’s indifference to the ISP abuse of their terminating access monopoly power is incredibly dangerous to entrepreneurship. Without bright line rules banning anti-competitive ISP practices, startups will be put at a structural disadvantage in competing with well-heeled incumbents, causing venture investment to dry up and innovation to suffer,” Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, wrote. The White House, which has been mostly mum on the topic, also weighed in on the debate this week. “The best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” deputy White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
Trump Asks Supreme Court to Revive Travel Ban. The Trump Administration has petitioned the Supreme Court to revive his immigration travel ban after yet another court blocked the effort last week. In a 10-3 ruling, a federal appeals court in Richmond, VA upheld an earlier Maryland ruling that suspended key parts of the Executive Order, which would would prevent entry for immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries and ban refugees from around the world. In response, President Trump has filed an appeal and asked the high court to temporarily lift the freeze. Trump will need the votes of five of the nine justices to stay the lower court orders and just four votes to add the case to the court’s docket. The startup community has pushed back against the President’s ban, with more than 300 startups and investors calling the it “morally and economically misguided” in a February letter to the President. We’re tracking.
On Tuesday, President Trump shocked the country by firing FBI director James Comey. The broader population probably knows Comey best as a result of his decision to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server just days before the general election. But Comey was an especially contentious figure within the tech community due to his broader pro-surveillance and anti-encryption stances and last year’s very public confrontation with Apple over the unlocking of an iPhone used during the San Bernardino terrorist attack. And while Director Comey’s relationship with tech companies during his time in leadership could best be described as tumultuous, it is unlikely that the President will appoint someone with a friendlier approach. During his time on the campaign trail, President Trump blasted tech giant Apple over its unwillingness to enable a backdoor for government on encrypted devices in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting.
Last week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai floated a proposal during a meeting with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that would roll back the net neutrality rules put in place by the previous Administration and replace them with “voluntary” commitments from ISPs. The proposal would completely undermine the Open Internet Order that the startup community backed in 2015, and Engine has put together a startup letter in conjunction with Y Combinator to push back, telling FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that any efforts to undo net neutrality will threaten startups’ ability to innovate and thrive. Learn more and sign the letter here.
Following last year’s dramatic removal of Maria Pallante as Copyright Register, the struggle between Congressional leaders and the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, continues. Despite the fact that Hayden has been clear about her intention to appoint the new Register, (as current law grants her the authority to do), top Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation yesterday that would make the position President-appointed and Senate-confirmed. This shift comes at a time when stakeholders across the board are calling for modernization of the Copyright Office, especially the digitization of records in order to simplify the determination of copyright holders. Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees met with Hayden earlier this month in an attempt to hold off on her nomination, however she later wrote them to tell them she planned to move forward with the process in order to ensure an “efficient and effective Copyright Office to serve Congress and the wide variety of stakeholders.” We’re tracking.
Earlier this month, Engine held its first briefing of the year: a conversation around the ways that startups are harnessing big data to drive innovation and develop targeted solutions for some of society’s greatest challenges. The event was headlined by Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), who were joined by a distinguished panel of startup leaders and policy analysts.
On Tuesday, more than 200 startups and investors from across the country joined Engine and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in sending a letter to President Trump opposing his Executive Orders on immigration—both the immigration ban EO signed on January 27th and the draft EO that would roll back existing worker visa and parole programs. In a statement, Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted that “Beyond the obvious harm these policies would have on refugees, immigrants, and the U.S.'s standing in the world community, we wanted to make sure the President understood that these policies would have a major detrimental impact on entrepreneurship and innovation.” Signatories ranged from early-stage startups like NourishWise in Nashville, TN and WorkHound in Des Moines, IA, to later-stage companies like Pinterest, General Assembly, and Vimeo. The letter was also signed by almost 100 individual investors, including Ron Conway, Dave McClure, Venky Ganesan, Jeff Clavier, and William H. Draper III.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the widely supported, broadly bipartisan Email Privacy Act, making this the second consecutive year that this common-sense update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) has passed the House. The bill makes a critical update to existing digital privacy laws that clarifies that law enforcement must obtain a warrant—except in certain clearly defined emergencies—before accessing an individual's electronic communications.
In a startling move after only one week in office, President Trump signed an Executive Order last Friday limiting the movement of immigrants—including lawful visa holders—and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the U.S. In a statement, Evan Engstrom, Engine’s executive director, said “The executive order is both morally and economically misguided, and sets a dangerous precedent that signals to the rest of the world that America is no longer open for innovation.” Hundreds of companies and organizations released statements of their objection, including Google, Apple, AirBnB, Microsoft, the Internet Association, CCIA, CTA, and TechNet. As immigrants play an essential role in building and contributing to the success of American startups, we urge our fellow members of the startup ecosystem to sign our letter to President Trump to express their opposition.
Today, we’re launching #StartupsEverywhere, a campaign celebrating the diverse, vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that are taking root in every corner of the country. The project will showcase exciting developments in a variety of rising startup communities through weekly interviews with startup ecosystem leaders. The profiles will look at issues ranging from the challenges faced by these communities to the unique qualities that set them apart from traditional technology hubs. Look out for our first profile this coming Wednesday, and stay tuned for a new featured community every week.
Engine commends Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), and the bill’s other cosponsors for today’s reintroduction of the Email Privacy Act, legislation that would make critical reforms to our nation’s outdated outdated digital privacy laws.
Last year saw a number of notable moments in startup and technology policy: investment crowdfunding went live, net neutrality survived a court challenge, drones took the the skies, encryption dominated headlines, the Copyright Office reviewed the DMCA, and much more. Over the last two weeks, we have been recapping these top issues and looking at how they could be impacted in 2017 on our blog. Read all of the posts here, and stay up to date with these topics and more by signing up for our monthly newsletter.
Privacy and security issues were top of mind for policymakers once again in 2016: the Apple-FBI battle pushed questions around encryption to the forefront; massive data breaches and cyberattacks called attention to cybersecurity issues; uncertainty around data transfers between the U.S. and EU persisted; and the heated debate around government access to digital communications thrust electronic privacy reform back into the spotlight. But even with all of these prominent debates, 2016 did not see much actual legislative movement. It’s unclear what will come to pass next year, but we are hopeful that any policies Congress or the new Administration pursue take into account the unique needs and realities of the evolving startup ecosystem.