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Dems take Congress: The impact on IT policy

On Net Neutrality, domestic spying and a host of other issues, the Democratic Congress will shift federal IT policy.
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Written by Richard Koman on

Now that the Democrats have control of both houses of Congress, how will Internet policies change at the federal level? News.com's Washington correspondents take a look at the the tech fall-out of the election.

On a wealth of topics--Net neutrality, digital copyright, merger approval, data retention, Internet censorship--a Capitol Hill controlled by Democrats should yield a shift in priorities on technology-related legislation.

First and foremost, net neutrality. Since a neutrality provision lost by just one vote in the Senate committee controlled by Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, look for Dems to move that issue into law.

"Clearly, we're going to have to address the question of network neutrality," Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday. Dingell, who has served in the House for more than 50 of his 80 years, is set to be the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which writes telecommunications laws.

"Internet freedom should not be a partisan issue. But Republicans have consistently been standing in the way, and there is zero doubt that the increased Democratic control of Congress will be fantastic news," said Green, whose group lobbies on the topic.

Next, electronic surveillance. The Republican-controlled Congress refused to draw the line on domestic spying but the new Congress is sure to set up higher boundaries. The issue of electronic surveillance represents another partisan divide. House Democrats cast 62 votes against the 2001 Patriot Act, but only three Republicans opposed it. Similarly, not one Democrat opposed a more recent amendment requiring the executive branch to disclose its data-mining technologies, while 165 Republicans did.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington office, said she hoped the new Congress would investigate the National Security Agency's domestic spying program. "The illegal spying program should be a primary focus of congressional efforts to investigate this administration's abuse of power," Fredrickson said. "The president himself has admitted to authorizing this warrantless spying in direct contravention of the dictates of FISA," or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But Democrats have their eye on the prize of the 2008 Presidential election and the possibility of holding onto Congress for a dozen years, like the Republicans did from 1994-2006. That means they'll be somewhat shy about appearing to be anti-security, while wanting to be bold against privacy invasions.

The ACLU is pinning some of its hopes on Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who is set to be the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers has suggested imposing greater controls on government surveillance and is in a key position to lead a high-profile investigation.

News.com looks at other issues too, like digital copyright, data retention, China and telecom policy.

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