Tech groups happy with switch to Democrats

Technology trade groups and vendors say they stand ready to work with a U.S. Congress controlled by Democrats, with some in the tech industry suggesting a change in the majority may yield better results.

Most tech issues in Congress tend to be bipartisan, and most tech industry representatives don’t expect a big change in the way Congress approaches those issues now that Democrats have taken a majority in the House of Representatives and Senate.

But many in the tech industry have privately and sometimes publicly complained about a lack of action on a variety of tech-related issues in the Republican-controlled Congress of the past two years. Other issues, including the war in Iraq, domestic security and immigration, have dominated Congress’ time.

The Republican Congress of the past two years accomplished little that helped the tech industry, one tech lobbyist said last week, before Tuesday’s elections. On the other hand, California’s Silicon Valley consistently elects Democrats to Congress.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive speaker of the House after Democrats take over, represents much of the city of San Francisco, and four representatives who represent parts of Silicon Valley to the immediate south, are all Democrats. Pelosi has particularly close relationships with Representatives Anna Eshoo, who represents the Palo Alto area, and Zoe Lofgren, who represents part of San Jose, said the lobbyist, who asked not to be identified.

“On lots of issues, we can work with these guys,” the lobbyist said.

A Democratic Congress could focus more on domestic issues now that the campaign, which focused on the Iraq war and other international issues, is over, added Marne Gordan, director of regulatory affairs at cybersecurity vendor Cybertrust. Gordan’s company called on Congress to pass a law that would require companies with data breaches notify affected customers. Among the strongest privacy advocates in the Senate are Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, she said.

During the past two years, members of Congress introduced more than a dozen data breach notification bills and none of them passed.

“I think that tech was not a priority,” she said. “It just got eclipsed by larger things.”

Other tech-related issues Congress failed to act on during the past two years:

— A wide-ranging broadband bill that would allow telecom providers to bypass local franchise agreements while providing competition to cable television services. The telecom bill was largely sidetracked by largely partisan arguments over net neutrality, with many Democrats wanting a law that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing competing Web content. Activists on both sides of the net neutrality debate say they don’t expect a huge shift in the way Congress would have eventually handled net neutrality.

— Two bills that would prohibit activities related to spyware and strengthen penalties passed the House, but failed to pass the Senate.

— Many tech companies called on Congress to reform the patent system by improving the quality of patents approved and making it tougher for patent-holders to gain court injunctions against alleged violators. Some pharmaceutical companies and independent inventors opposed a change in court injunctions, and Congress didn’t get far with patent reform.

— Many tech companies have called for a higher cap on skilled immigrant workers under the H-1B program, while tech worker groups have opposed an increase. A couple of attempts to raise the H-1B limit failed.

Still, tech trade groups including the Information Technology Association of America, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), and the Computing Technology Industry Association, say they are looking forward to working with the new Congress.

“We’ve worked very closely with both Republicans and Democrats for a long time,” said Robert Holleyman, BSA’s president and chief executive officer. “Tech issues have been some of the most bipartisan issues in Washington for a long time.”

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