- - Sunday, January 28, 2018

There really isn’t anything quite like American innovation. What makes U.S. innovation so different is that it’s not just one field or sector; it’s an ethos that inspires business across the country. Whether it’s due to Americans’ work ethic, an entrepreneurial spirit or a framework that allows innovators to succeed, the United States is second to none when it comes to creating technology that improves our daily lives.

With that in mind, the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress with an important duty — included in the Commerce Clause — to provide oversight of interstate and foreign commerce. This constitutional power is central to the work of the 223-year-old Energy and Commerce Committee, the oldest continuously standing committee in the House of Representatives. While none of the members of the Committee have been around since its inception, it’s fair to say much has changed over time — from horse-drawn carriages to the Ford Model T to the potential of fully self-driving vehicles — but the committee has always provided stewardship over American innovation, promotion of commerce and protecting consumers.

Not only are we examining present-day issues involving consumer safety and technology, we are looking ahead to the future of innovation — what is coming five or 10 years down the road. With the promise of new innovations and technological capabilities coming our way, the landscape is ever-changing.

The number of connected devices is on the rise, and our digital economy continues to grow. American consumers have come to expect the speed, choice and convenience of online shopping, digital commerce, on-demand credit, mobile payments and much more. While most Americans feel that technology positively affects society and our everyday lives, polls show they are skeptical about how personal information is used and protected online.

Recent data breaches from Equifax, Uber and other companies raise the specter about the protection of consumers in a data-driven economy. Breaches involving sensitive personal and financial information are a serious threat to the well-being of American consumers and our economy. Last fall, the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection — which I chair — made solid progress in examining data breach and cybersecurity issues. Through a number of public hearings, including testimony running the gamut from the former CEO of Equifax to renowned cybersecurity experts, we learned about the challenges to protecting consumer information while ensuring access to the services they want.

These issues remain at the top of my agenda in 2018. The subcommittee has already begun working with a wide range of stakeholders on potential proposals and recommendations that can incentivize security and help prevent breaches of personal and financial data.

Another consumer protection issue that continues to be on our radar is self-driving cars. We need to make sure these vehicles are safe for consumers and at the same time promote innovation in this space. That’s why we passed the SELF DRIVE Act — a first-of-its-kind piece of legislation — to do just that. It passed the Energy and Commerce Committee in a bipartisan 54-0 vote and then received unanimous approval in the House.

This bill helps ensure that self-driving cars are safe by focusing on both structural features and cybersecurity. In fact, the legislation makes clear that auto manufacturers cannot sell or introduce into commerce a self-driving car unless a cybersecurity plan has been developed. This legislation is also important for our senior citizens and for individuals with disabilities as autonomous vehicles would increase mobility.

As this technology is already underway and further development continues, the SELF DRIVE Act provides a clear, consistent framework under which innovation can thrive. We remain committed to working with our Senate colleagues and getting self-driving car legislation to the president’s desk. This is an important step for consumer safety and innovation as more and more of this incredible technology reaches America’s roads.

We’re also looking at the challenges and implications that come with the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is the name for the network of connected devices, services and objects that collect and exchange information. IoT applications, like smart home devices and wearable technologies, can offer significant benefits to consumers by providing quick responsive services, convenience and enhanced user experiences.

However, cybersecurity remains an ever-present concern for any internet-connected device. Constant vigilance and improved coordination are necessary to help prevent bad actors from taking advantage of weaknesses. With so many of these items now in homes and businesses across the country, our committee continues to examine the privacy and security concerns associated with IoT.

As a result of advancements like the Internet of Things, self-driving cars and digital commerce, the American people are more connected to information and opportunity than ever before. My goal on the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee has always been to act in the best interest of the consumer and the American people. In any policy decision, we must anticipate what’s coming next in the fast-paced environment of innovation. The tremendous benefits of our internet-enabled, data-driven economy need not be at the expense of safeguarding consumers’ personal information.

Rep. Bob Latta, Ohio Republican, is Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.

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