Pet Net Bills Come Alive Again in Senate

Electronic Government is in, Baby Bells are out and cybersurveillance better prepare for scrutiny.

Electronic Government is in, Baby Bells are out and cybersurveillance better prepare for scrutiny.

Thats a taste of whats in store for technology policy in the U.S. Senate, now that the Democrats have taken over the leadership.

Most significant technology policy is hammered out in three committees and their respective subcommittees: the Judiciary Committee, where Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is in charge; the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., holds the reins; and the Government Affairs Committee, which is the jurisdiction of Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

Shortly before the Senates change in leadership, Lieberman introduced his Electronic Government Act of 2001, which calls for the creation of a federal chief information officer and provides more money for cross-government information technology projects, among other things. It wasnt endorsed by the Republican chair of the committee, Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and was effectively dead. Now its back from the grave.

"The act has a much better chance of getting out of committee and seeing the light of day," said Rob Atkinson, director of the Technology and New Economy Project at the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democrat think tank.

Leahy has long engaged in debates over the proper role of law enforcement in surveillance, and he is likely to push legislation that reins in law enforcements attempts to snoop in cyberspace, said David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "An area thats obviously hanging out there is the question of what standard law enforcement needs to get access to location information generated by wireless devices," he said, adding that it could be an early focus of Leahys.

In the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Hollings, never a big Baby Bell fan, made his bias clear last week in his first hearing on local telecommunication competition.

Of the eight experts called to testify on local competition, seven were Baby Bell critics. During the hearing, Hollings blasted House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-La., for championing a Baby Bell-friendly bill in the House.

"Tell our friend Billy that the tread has come off" the bills hopes in the Senate, Hollings said during the hearing.