The headline in The New York Times “Lindsey Graham and Elizabeth Warren: When It Comes to Big Tech, Enough Is Enough” caught my eye for two reasons, both good. First, it was a breath of fresh air to see two senior senators from the opposing parties, one Republican (Graham) and one Democrat (Warren), co-operating. And second, I was delighted with their cause.
In the past American politicians from the two sides have frequently worked together. Going back to the birth of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, who appointed three of his Republican rivals for president and a Democrat to his cabinet, said he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because they sometimes disagreed with him.
President Barack Obama admired Lincoln’s “team of rivals” approach and appointed two of his Democratic rivals (Biden and Clinton) and two Republicans to his cabinet.
And senators have long crossed party lines to propose legislation.
Nonetheless, in recent years, the rivalry has become increasing hostile. According to the Pew Research Center, the parties are farther apart today ideologically than at any time in the past 50 years. While the Democrats have moved marginally to the left, the Republicans have veered hard right, some into the arms of fascism.
So seeing that members of the two parties can still co-operate for the public good is encouraging, and also encouraging is the cause these two are pursuing. Graham and Warren are co-operating on a very worthy endeavour—leashing big tech.
In their proposed Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act, they are seeking “an independent, bipartisan regulator charged with licensing and policing the nation’s biggest tech companies—like Meta, Google and Amazon.” Their goal is “to prevent online harm, promote free speech and competition, guard Americans’ privacy and protect national security.” Their bill would set clear rules for tech companies and impose real consequences for companies that break the law.
The legislation is long overdue. These companies have facilitated a range of antisocial behaviours, undermined democracy, corrupted free speech, pilfered and profited from personal data and invaded privacy, all as virtual monopolies and without accountability.
One tech billionaire, Elon Musk, has downright scary power as the dominant force in satellite internet technology with his Starlink, made by his rocket company, SpaceX. More than 4,500 Starlink satellites are in the skies, over 50 percent of all active satellites. He plans on increasing that ten-fold.
Starlink is often the only way to get internet access in war zones and disaster areas. In Ukraine the military, hospitals, businesses and aid organizations all depend on the technology. The US Defense Department is a major customer.
And all this is under the control of one man, the erratic and combustible Mr. Musk. He alone can shut down Starlink internet access for a customer or a country, and he has at his fingertips the sensitive information the service gathers. No company or government can match him.
As Graham and Warren say, “Nobody elected big tech executives to govern anything, let alone the entire digital world. … leaders on both sides of the aisle must take responsibility for protecting the freedom of the American people from the ever-changing whims of these powerful companies and their unaccountable CEOs. Today we’re stepping up to that challenge with a bipartisan bill to treat Big Tech the way we treat other industries.”
Democratic governments everywhere need to step up.