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Silicon Valley congressman Ro Khanna explains his ‘internet bill of rights’

The proposed legislation offers new rules for data portability, net neutrality and more that Democrats might push for if they recapture Congress.

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Congressman Ro Khanna
Congressman Ro Khanna
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images for MoveOn.org

In her latest column for the New York Times, Recode Editor at Large Kara Swisher previewed the “internet bill of rights” — a set of new regulations for Silicon Valley that Democratic legislators may start pushing next year if they recapture Congress in November.

The author of these proposals is Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., whose congressional district includes the headquarters for Apple and Google. Khanna joined Swisher on a new bonus episode of Recode Decode to explain all 10 of the potential regulations, which Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tasked him with drafting after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica affair.

“The problem is not just with Zuckerberg,” Khanna said in an interview recorded before Facebook’s latest scandal. “I mean, I hold him accountable, but since when did we think in this country that 30-something-year-old entrepreneurs should be writing the rules for internet privacy? That’s the responsibility of Congress. And what was shocking to me is members of Congress asking Zuckerberg, “Well, what should we do?”

You can read the full list of proposals in Kara’s column, but he said the most important one to him is the idea that consumers should be able to petition a tech company for information about themselves.

“If you go to a doctor and then you want to know what your health data is, you have the right to get that health data,” Khanna explained. “Right now, if you want to know what data Facebook has about you, you don’t have the right to ask them to give you all of the data they have on you, and the right to know what they’ve done with it. You should have that right. You should have the right to know and have access to your data.”

You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Ro.


Kara Swisher: Today I’m in Washington, D.C., and I’m very happy to have Congressman Ro Khanna back on the podcast. He represents California’s 17th district, which includes the campuses of Google and Apple. We’re gonna talk about something he’s been working on, the Internet Bill of Rights, which I discussed in my column for the New York Times this week. Ro, welcome to Recode Decode.

Ro Khanna: Thanks and congratulations on your column in the New York Times.

Oh, I’m lucky.

You’re creating quite a stir.

Creating a stir, that’s my job, Ro. You’re gonna create a stir, I hope, with this Bill of Rights. But let’s talk a little bit about where ... and then I wanna get into what you’re doing. Last time we talked, I think it was before Cambridge Analytica or ...

Right after.

Right after. So how do you assess what’s going on in the district you represent and what’s happening in the country at large over tech ... The things have happened.

Well there is a concern over ...

A concern.

A concern with people saying, “What’s going on? Why is Congress not acting?” Here we’ve had massive breaches of people’s privacy, there’s a concern about people not being safe with their data, and what is Congress doing? And so the Internet Bill of Rights is an answer to say, Congress needs to do something to safeguard people’s privacy.

Right. So we’re gonna go over the individual aspects of it. But first, I wanna get sort of an idea ... The hearings had not taken place, and the House hearings went better than the Senate hearings.

Right.

The Senate hearings were sort of ridiculous goat rodeo, as far as I could tell. And I watched the whole thing. Has the mood changed perceptibly since that, or as more revelations have come up about Cambridge Analytica, about Facebook? Now Twitter, of course, is sucked up into this Alex Jones controversy.

Right.

So let’s walk through those. What do you think about those hearings and the impact of them?

Well, I think people thought the Senate and the House were ill-equipped to deal with these issues.

Right.

I mean, we’ve discussed this before, they ... Asking Zuckerberg how does Facebook make money, and not knowing their model of ads, and a sense that Congress was not really prepared to go beyond the questions that the staffers had written for some of the Senators and House members.

Right.

The challenges after that month of media exposure, then Congress has moved on to now dealing with tax policy and other issues, and this is kind of gone off the front burner.

Right.

And the tech leaders, they’re fine with that.

Of course.

They’re fine, they know that Congress isn’t moving, that the politics and the Energy and Commerce Committee are between the internet service providers and the edge providers. The AT&Ts are fighting the Facebooks and Googles and nothing is happening. And so the status quo is fine for a lot of these folks. The people who are suffering, of course, are the consumers, who are using these platforms. But I would be lying if I said that there was concrete action taking place in Congress right now.

Right.

It’s just the status quo.

It was kind of just a circus in a weird way. It just ... The questions, you’re absolutely right, were just all over the place and not very pertinent to what was happening. Is there anything Congress can do in this area? We’re gonna talk about the Internet Bill of Rights, but do you foresee any legislations coming out? You just don’t ... I don’t either, I don’t ...

I don’t think anything’s gonna happen before the midterm election, and of course you could do something. California passed ...

The privacy law.

... privacy laws. There’s no reason Congress couldn’t act, but there is no will to act. And candidly, people on both sides, when you talk to some of the leaders — and I’m not gonna name names — say, “Well, let’s just punt this till after the election.” So, there is not the desire in Congress to get something done. There could be things short of an Internet Bill of Rights ... I mean, you would think, there has been one of the biggest scandals in people’s privacy, you would think Congress would pass something, but there’s been no effort.

So punting down past the elections. The elections, of course, are of concern.

Right.

And it’s not even hacking, because it’s just using the platforms improperly, lack of transparency, lack of privacy ...

Right.

Usage of the data, all kinds of things. Because really, I mean, I think the conclusion, except for the only who person who doesn’t believe it is Donald Trump, that the Russians used the platforms as they were built.

Right.

And that’s obviously even worse globally. There was just a really devastating report in Reuters about how they handled those ... How to monitor what was going on there in terms of hate speech and things like that. So why punt? What’s the ... I get what’s going on in Congress right now, but that there’s no feeling that we shouldn’t punt.

Because both parties are thinking what’s in their electoral advantage.

Nobody cares.

And it’s ... If you talk to some of the Republicans they will say, “Well, let’s go with the AT&T Bill of Rights.” I mean, give me a break. You really want an internet service provider to write the Bill of Rights? And some of the Democrats say, “Well, we’ve got the Republicans on the run, let’s not push for some legislation right now.” It’s just myopia. I’ve been frustrated, Joe Kennedy has been frustrated, some of the younger members are very frustrated because we actually think our job is to go do something.

And in some sense, the problem is not just with Zuckerberg. I mean, I hold him accountable, but since when did we think in this country that 30-something-year-old entrepreneurs should be writing the rules for internet privacy?

Right.

I mean, that’s the responsibility of Congress. And what was shocking to me is members of Congress asking Zuckerberg, “Well, what should we do?”

Right, I know, that was driving me crazy.

“Well, can you help us?”

That was like, “Can I get you a cup of tea?”

Right.

Man, it was so ... It was sort of ...

What other field ... If you had airline executives out there, you think members of Congress would be asking United Airlines, “Tell us how we can make the passenger experience better.”

Right, right.

Right? Or, “What can you do?” No, they would be saying, “Here’s what you need to do.”

Right.

I’ve never seen members of Congress have healthy egos. I’ve never seen them more sheepish than before Zuckerberg.

What’s interesting is that I thought they would pass on their questions to people who were competent. They did it in Britain, in other places.

Right.

We’re talking about what should happen. And it really is about legislation and regulation of these companies. Give us the history of what happened. And let’s be clear: You’re not in power so you can’t really do too much here in terms of that yet.

We can’t implement it to make it law yet.

Not today.

Not today. And some people have said, “This is a 15-year project.” I said, “We don’t have 15 years to wait.”

Right.

But we need to get the conversation started so that there can be legislation starting January, regardless of who’s in power. I hope it’s the Democrats, but so that we can actually start to address the issue. But here is ...

So go through how it happened.

So it happened after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Nancy and I ...

Nancy Pelosi?

Nancy Pelosi and I talked and I said ...

Speaker ... Former speaker of the House, the leader ...

Leader of the Democrats. And I said, “Those hearings left people wondering what is Congress going to do? There is a fundamental issue here where people are spending a huge amount of their time online and their rights need to be protected online just like their rights are protected in the physical world, and the Congress is primarily responsible for drafting those new rights and those new rules. So why don’t we take the leadership to do that?” And to her credit, she said, “Go do it.”

Right.

“Don’t just talk to me, come back with a proposal of what that would look like.” And I then reached out to people who had worked on this in the Obama administration, Nicole Wong and Andrew McElvery, I reached out to Center of Democracy and Technology, Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Black Lives Data Equity and a number of these groups to say ...

And the companies?

And the companies. To say, “What would be reasonable? What are some principles that we can all agree on and then we can argue the details on legislation, but let’s at least agree that there are certain rights that an individual should have when they have an experience online.” And I envision this at every homepage. When you go to Facebook or when you go to the Google homepage, you would have in the corner, “Here are your rights.” Like when you click on Recode, you have to —

Cookies.

Cookies. There’s a clear ... It’s not some technical thing you sign.

No.

There’s a clear warning ...

We’re an “eat your vegetables” kind of website.

So let’s talk about the principles. You went around and talked to them, trying to figure it out, and created a document that is pretty broad. It’s pretty broad. But let’s go through some of them because I think it’s really interesting. You said “the internet age and the digital age have changed Americans’ way of life, as our lives and economy are more tied to the internet. It is an essential part of Americans’ basic protections online.”

Some of these things, there are protections, but it’s not specific to the internet. Privacy protections, data protections, which haven’t seemed to work as well as they should. Let’s go through them really quickly. “You have the right to access, to a knowledge of collection and uses of personal data.” So talk about that. That’s the ... that you should be able to see the data that’s being collected by these companies?

Yes, you should be able to get that data. If you go to a doctor and then you want to know what your health data is, you have the right to get that health data. Right now, if you want to know what data Facebook has about you, you don’t have the right to ask them to give you all of the data they have on you, and the right to know what they’ve done with it. You should have that right. You should have the right to know and have access to your data.

Mm-hmm. All right. What does that mean? Because I think part of it is, it’s not very easy to use. This is highly unspecific. Is it plain-English prominent? You said every homepage, things like that.

Let me give you an example of why that right to access and knowledge would matter. Let’s look at the Cambridge Analytica scandal. There are, as you know, several nonprofits that have 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 people on these platforms, so that they are monitoring what’s going on. If there was suspicious activity, like Cambridge Analytica, those nonprofits could have made a request of Facebook to say, “We want to see the data for these individuals, what’s happening to this data and who it’s going to.” That would have come out that that data was being misused or transferred ...

So you knew where it was.

So we would have known far earlier. So, it’s not just an individual. Yes, an individual can make that request, but it will empower these nonprofits to hold companies accountable.

Right, looking at them, and scrutinizing ... The way, say, Media Matters is on Alex Jones, various things like that.

Exactly.

Okay. The second one is to opt-in consent to collection of personal data by any party in sharing of personal data. So this is the same thing. This is any time your data is used, you don’t want people to click, click, click, click, click. Nobody does. And they end up giving away all their rights, because it’s so exhausting.

Exactly. So this is saying, look, when you have to click when people are gonna collect your data, or if they’re gonna transfer your data. So, it’s not just that you have the right to know what’s happening to your data, it’s that before your data is collected, you have to affirmatively consent.

But what we left out of it is affirmative consent for every use case. Because if you do that, as some other countries have, then you would have to click any time you saw an ad. Any time, basically, you did anything on the website.

Americans don’t like that.

They don’t want to click 25 times. And I do think that people have a point. That if you’re clicking 25 times, it’s gonna dilute the value of clicking. People just click without thinking about something.

Right. But the ability to know major movements of ...

The ability to know major movements.

Which is gonna be expensive for these companies.

It will add expense. They can afford it. They can afford it.

Yeah. I’ve noticed.

They’ve gone ... They’re doing well enough. I think the bigger risk ...

Come on, they have kombucha butlers there. So, kind of, really, they can just drop one of them.

No one begrudges them their economic success.

Some people do.

Well, I think they’re wrong. If I said ...

I don’t know. The $412 billion. You’re like, “Oh, God, really?”

But what they want is some responsibility, right?

I sound like a communist, don’t I?

People want ... They probably begrudge the level of income inequality. But people say, “Okay, look, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or these people should make money because they came up with novel inventions.” Sure. But what now is their responsibility to society?

Yeah. Absolutely.

The next one, “where the context-appropriate and fair process to obtain correct and delete personal data controlled by a company and have those requests on or by third parties…” That’s in Europe, it’s quite right to remove yourself or ...

Yes.

That’s sort of in that zone.

It is, but that’s why we have that caveat, or qualifier with context specific. What we say is, you should have the right to delete your data, but you shouldn’t have the right to be forgotten. What that means is, if there’s something I didn’t like about this interview, I shouldn’t be able to say, “Kara, please delete that from the internet.” Or, if I committed a crime, I shouldn’t be able to delete something from the internet. But I should be able to delete ...

That would be like the Donald Trump delete. Delete law.

Yes. Can you imagine Donald Trump having suits out for suing all these companies, saying, “Take this off, take that off.”

Oh yeah, I can.

I think the European law here goes too far in the right to be forgotten. But we should be able to delete things. If I leave Facebook and I don’t want them to have any of my data that I entered there, you should have the right to do that.

All right. But you find the European ones too onerous? This idea of right to be forgotten? You can’t be forgotten, right? In this day and age?

I do think the European one is too onerous. Europe doesn’t have a First Amendment, and you could see in politicians making requests saying, “Oh, that happened when I was a kid, it’s irrelevant, it shouldn’t be on the internet.” And I think that’s getting into a gray zone.

I also think some of the European regulations, which literally have the regulators prescribing how apps should be designed... I get maybe the European Parliament has more technical savvy than the United States Congress, but I couldn’t imagine if the United States Congress had to go tell these tech companies, “Here’s how we want you to design apps and icons.” It would be a disaster.

A disaster, and it goes right down the chain in this one. The meaning of wherever the data goes.

Right.

Right, the people have a right?

Yes.

“Personal data secured and to be notified in a timely manner when a security breach or unauthorized access to …” I can’t even believe. Even though there’s laws in place for this, these breaches happen, and these people sit on them. Like Yahoo, there was Equifax.

Right, and there’s no notification requirement. So, imagine if, as soon as Facebook had learned about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, they had an affirmative requirement to notify the FTC or the FCC. Well, you would have had people like you and others writing about it before the 2016 election.

There’s two points. The ultimate cure to Russian interference in our elections is to make platforms that aren’t susceptible to interference. But until we get to that point — and everyone has acknowledged, it’s gonna be harder than easier to do that — transparency can solve a fair amount. So at least let’s know when there’s a breach so that the public can be aware of it.

It’s astonishing. It’s astonishing that they get off the way ... There’s private lawsuits and things like that, but it’s really kind of shocking, in a lot of ways.

It is shocking that this doesn’t exist. That you don’t have enough ...

There are laws...

There are laws where individuals can take private causes of action. But there was no law saying that ... I mean, Facebook, as I understand it, didn’t violate any existing laws.

Same thing with Yahoo.

Or Yahoo.

So interesting. Someone’s like, “How did you get that story?” I said, “People inside were so horrified that they kept it a secret, they called me. They wanted it out.” Because they were like, “Are you kidding, all these users are affected, their passwords are affected?” That story was really shocking to me. All of them are. I’m sort of like, “You wouldn’t say something immediately?” They all have some elaborate excuses why they don’t, but honestly.

By the way, the laws, I think, would actually protect some of these companies, because it would require them to do something.

They have to.

I can imagine, I’m not making an excuse, I can imagine tech leaders thinking of 100 things, maybe it didn’t rise to their level of saying, “Oh, we better disclose this to the American public.” Well, if there’s a law ...

They don’t want to.

Maybe they don’t want to. But the point is, it takes away the temptations of judgment and makes it required.

They all seem to say, “Oh, we’re gonna take care of it quietly.” But I’m just like, I’d rather ... I’m not gonna compare it to what the Catholic Church did, but it’s like, “I don’t want you to take care of it privately, I’d like it to be taken care of publicly.”

By making it public it would dilute the impact of the propaganda, because at least the public would know, “Oh, okay.”

“I better change my password. I better do this.”

Right.

All right. “To move all personal data from one network to the next,” that’s data mobility, essentially. Which Facebook has been for, too. It’s a complicated issue.

It is, but the complicated thing is, okay, let’s say I want to take my data away from Facebook to another peer-to-peer network, what is my data? Do I get to take just my data? Do I get to take my friends? Do I get to take the value that Facebook has provided by doing their own analysis? So the details matter, but the basic idea is, I should be able to take my information easily from one network to another.

Right.

All right, next one. That’s an interesting ... Mark talked about that in our podcast too, when he wasn’t talking about Holocaust deniers. But that got a lot of attention. He said a lot of really fascinating ...

Your column created a huge stir in the Valley. But I actually thought you were fairly nice to them. I didn’t think it was ... You called him a nice guy, you said that he was a decent person. The fact is that you pointed out that Silicon Valley needs more humanities courses.

Yeah, they do. At least just like ... I don’t know what they need. What do you think they should read?

Habermas has been about this, but they don’t have to read Habermas himself, they need to hire people who have read Habermas to go work for them, to think ... Because what they’re doing is hugely consequential, right? They’re creating these huge new squares ...

They’re getting an education real fast, is what it is.

For communication. They’re grappling with things about, what is truth? What is proper communication? That are really philosophical questions. So they should hire people who have studied that.

You know, Mark is having dinners with lots of people — left, the right, the middle, whatever — to learn about this.

They should put Ted Cruz in charge.

He should have stayed in college a little longer, I think.

Yeah.

All right, “to access and use without internet service providers blocking throughout,” this is net neutrality, “engaging in pay prioritization, and otherwise unfairly favoring content applications, services and otherwise.”

Right. This is basically, everyone should be able to get onto the internet without being charged and paid.

This is legislating neutrality rather than letting the FCC ping pong back and forth.

Exactly. If we could get Tom Wheeler, who was the prior FCC chair’s order in legislation that would do a lot to assure people that they’re going to have access.

Doesn’t change every time. Now it’s changed under Ajit Pai ...

Doesn’t change every time.

And it’ll change again.

By the way, the argument that Ajit Pai made, because I tried to take arguments at most seriously. He said, “Well, if these internet service providers, AT&T and Verizon, they need to be able to make more money so that they can then go invest that money in expanding the internet service to places left out.” So, okay, if you really think AT&T needs to make more money, fine. And then what do you read next day? Well, they’re using that money to have a merger with Time Warner. I mean, give me a break. You really think they’re going to be using that money to invest in rural America?

No I do not. No I do not. I believe everything AT&T tells me.

The argument ...

I don’t.

You want to invest in rural America, invest in rural America. Put $80 billion to have fiber there. One of the biggest challenges, I mean, China has got 53 percent of the country is gonna be fiber?

Oh, we’re gonna get into that next. We’re gonna get ... It’s amazing.

We’re at 3 percent? I mean, it’s ...

Literally a third-world country when it comes to ... The prices are first world.

Yes.

The quality is third world. I think we’re, like, 56th. I think Lichtenstein has better internet coverage.

What’s mind-boggling to me is I sit on the Armed Services Committee and I hear this angst among Republican and Democratic colleagues about how we’re losing to China.

Yeah, we are.

And their angst is about how we’re losing in our Navy and our Air Force, our military. That’s not where we’re losing. China, where we face a challenge to China is on artificial intelligence, on fiber, on lasers.

I was just saying that the other day. Everything.

And so, it reminds me, I mean, if you’ll indulge me for a second ...

I shall.

It’s like a campaign and someone who’s put a million bucks on TV and then there’s a challenger candidate and they put $50,000 on one of these platforms, Twitter or Facebook. And the conventional person says, “You know what we ought to do? Instead of putting a million on TV we need to put two million on TV but we’re not going to put the $50,000 on digital.” That’s what we’re doing, actually. We’re doubling down on conventional weapons. China knows they can never catch us in conventional weapons. They’re trying these other things and we’re not responding. I mean, it’s mind boggling.

Yeah. It is. That’s a whole nother podcast, Ro. I’m going to talk about that in the future, muchly.

We’re on number 7, to “internet service without the collection of data that is unnecessarily providing the requested service absent opt-in consent…” What’s that about?

Well, the basic idea is that you shouldn’t have to give data that is not necessary. So some of these internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon ...

They want everything.

They want everything. They’re saying, “Why are Facebook and Google making all this money? We want to make the money. We want to get this data when you sign up.” But they are not providing any content, they should ... Okay, if you need some data to get access to the internet, fine. But don’t make it more then what’s absolutely necessary.

More onerous. Yeah, that sounds good. “To have access to multiple” — this is eight — “to have access to multiple viable affordable internet platforms, services and providers with clear and transparent pricing.”

This is just competition.

Right.

You know, maybe we shouldn’t have allowed Facebook to acquire WhatsApp and Instagram so that ...

Would they be able to today?

I don’t think so. I hope not. I mean, when Mark Zuckerberg was asked the question, “Who is your competitor?” Instead of struggling, imagine he could have answered, “Instagram and WhatsApp.” Right? And Snapchat. But, they acquired Instagram, they acquired WhatsApp, and they basically appropriated video once they saw what Snapchat was doing. They incorporated that. So, the point of this is to say there should be competition. There should be multiple providers so that you don’t have one or two dominant places where you have to go.

Mm-hmm.

I don’t think that’s that controversial.

How hard is it gonna be for these internet companies to acquire things?

I think that’s where they’re going to have to compromise and realize that the rules are going to change. That there should be ...

I think they’re buying things right now.

There should be huge scrutiny on massive acquisitions and mergers. I’m not as far out as Roger McNamee who says, “Okay, let’s ban mergers and acquisitions.”

No.

Because what are you gonna do with startups? I mean, if no startups have any exit ...

And Roger’s done rather well from that, himself. So he should hush when it ...

Roger’s a very smart man.

He’s closing the barn door there.

But, but should there be scrutiny when you’re trying to acquire something that’s gonna be a direct competitor? Yes.

Get ready, Ro. They’re buying. I’m hearing lots of, like, activity. It’s really interesting. It’s fascinating that they’re ... I heard one the other day that’s pretty massive. I was like, “Wow, that’s a ... Okay.”

One of the things that I wonder if some aspiring entrepreneur is gonna come up with a social media network that values privacy in a much better way and start to build an alternative just through the market forces.

They’ve tried. They’ve tried, but it’s interesting. People get stuck on things.

All right. Nine. “Not to be unfairly discriminated against or exploited based on your personal data.” Well that’s ...

That’s an obvious one, but it’s basically that you shouldn’t have race or religion be factors in how your experience is online. And also that you should be sensitive to what type of demographics are using these platforms. Who it’s targeted to. How to create a more inclusive conversation.

For example, if I have a town hall and if in my town hall in a district that is heavily Asian American no Asian American showed up.

Mm-hmm.

I would get criticized.

Right. Right.

It would be very obvious in those pictures. Well, what if you now have these online, basically, town halls, conversations and there’s no consideration? Are there African American voices? Are there women’s voices? Are people bullying and making people uncomfortable to participate? Why are those questions not being asked?

Right. Right. Yeah, well, they’re not asking, if you noticed. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.

I mean, has anyone even done the analysis about who is participating racially, demographically, gender-wise?

Well, it’s interesting. It’s much more diverse and yet the companies aren’t represented that way. Which is among the base, no, I don’t think that’s ever going to be legislated, that kind of thing. But it’s shameful in many ways.

And you know what is interesting to me? Bill Sprigs is one of the most thoughtful people, is an economist, was for Obama. He teaches at Howard University. He told me in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, guess how much of the tech workforce is African American? 22 percent. I was shocked. In Silicon Valley it’s under 3 percent. And he said that is because of choices. In this area people ...

Government.

Partnered with the HBCUs. They prioritize minority businesses, which then hired minorities. So, it’s not that the talent isn’t there. Of course there’s the talent, or the yes, we have to build a pipeline. It’s the policies and the choices. Intentionality.

Absolutely. 100 percent. I get so exhausted when they tell me they can’t figure it out. They’re the smartest people in America, in case you’re interested, in the world, apparently. But not that smart. You don’t have to insult them, I’ll do it for you.

Well, in some ways they are the smartest. Let’s apply that to beyond how to have something go faster, connect us more.

Absolutely. It’s in their best interest from a business point of view. It’s so exhausting trying to argue the point. And then when ... I’ve said this a million times and I’ll keep saying it: The only time they bring up standards is when they’re talking about women and people of color. Never about the people who’ve driven some of these companies into walls. That’s okay, because failure is good! It’s really interesting.

You know these folks better than I do. You’ve known them for years. Do you have any doubt, Kara, that if they sat down and said, “We need to ...”

None. I know your question. No. None.

“We need to solve the issue of how we get more employment in places left behind. More minorities. We’re gonna take this as seriously as the next iPhone launch or the next expansion of Facebook to other parts of the world.” Do you have any doubt that in one year ...

No. And it hurts their businesses. You know why they didn’t fix bullying? ’Cause they never got bullied, the people who ran these companies. So, “What are you talking about?” They had no clue what was going on for everybody else. That’s a business thing, ’cause they’re now in a disastrous mess because of that. Because they weren’t aware and they didn’t have ...

And I’m not just talking about race and gender. I’m talking about age, I’m talking about economic background, I’m talking about all kinds of interesting voices that will really give people a perspective. And it’s not just to check one from every box, it’s to be a better business.

And my hope is that you will prod them to actually see their enlightened self-interest. Which is what Bill Gates [did], right? When you ask people in America, “What is Bill Gates’s legacy?” Most people don’t say Microsoft, they say, “Well, he’s one of the great humanists of his time.” And they talk about the work he’s done.

He certainly turned that around, didn’t he?

Right. So, if they care about their legacy and others, I think maybe others will follow their model.

Maybe they don’t.

Anyway. Last one. “To have an entity that collects your personal data, have reasonable business practice and accountability to product your privacy.” That’s like, so broad. You could drive like 63 anti-privacy trucks through it.

What it’s saying is that there should be an obligation on these companies to think about what the best cybersecurity platforms are and that there should be an accountability for them to design it. So that government may not know exactly what to do, but these companies should have a legal liability if they aren’t coming up with the best designs to protect your data.

Okay, so that’s 10 of them. Which is a nice number. You didn’t do 11 or nine. Ten. I like 10. It’s a good number.

Yes.

So, what now? You have to own Congress, one. And this can’t all be one piece of legislation, it could be lots. So, what happens now? And you said 15-year fight? Is that right?

So, the relevant committees are the Energy and Commerce committee in the House of Representatives and the analogue in the Senate. They need to first introduce legislation. It can be in one big piece of legislation or it could be in multiple subsets of legislation. That legislation has to be debated in that committee, then it has to get out of that committee and go to the floor of the House.

And what I have said is, I’m not wedded to this particular document — though I will put in that Tim Berners-Lee supported it — but I’m not wedded to these principles being perfect. Let’s debate it, let’s have other principles. What I am wedded to is action. Let’s get something moving. Let’s have the committee take up legislation.

And that would be what congressman in the Energy and Commerce? If the Democrats win.

Frank Pallone from New Jersey would be the chairman right now. He’s the ranking member. And Mike Doyle would be on the relevant committee, as would Jan Schakowsky. So, they would have the ability to move the legislation.

You mentioned Joe Kennedy, who I’ve met.

Joe Kennedy’s on the committee and Joe is one of the most thoughtful people on these issues. He will have a key role and my hope is, I said, call it the Frank Pallone Bill. Call it the Energy and Commerce Bill. But do something. We’ve got to move it through the committee.

Right okay. So, it could be in pieces. And then in the Senate, you have to then have one in the Senate, who there?

Ed Markey, I think, and [Amy] Klobuchar will play a key role there. There’ll be a number of senators on the relevant committee. The counterpart to the Energy and Commerce committee in the Senate. They need to move something.

But here’s my view. Whoever moves something first, I think it will force the other body to respond. And this is a great opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for these members of Congress to do something significant.

And then it’s gotta be ... But it could be in pieces, right?

It could be in pieces.

What’s the most important piece, from your perspective?

I think the most important piece is the opt-in consent and the right to have access to your data. The basic sense should be, “Just like I have access to my health situation or my financial information, I should have access to my online information.”

They’re gonna have to have the rules of everybody else, well, that’s a problem. And then you’ve talked to the companies and other people. Who are against ... Are Republicans against this? Or ... They don’t like regulation.

They’re very savvy. No one will ever come out and say, “We’re against this.” They’ll just slow roll or they’ll take meetings but not necessarily push it. And my hope is ... What it takes is the courage of one or two of these tech leaders to follow what Tim Berners-Lee said, and said, “Regulate us. Legislate us.”

Is there one that you think?

I think Tim Cook would be a huge difference maker.

He’s doing some good tsk tsk-ing these days.

Yeah. Well, he’s ... I think he’s got the credibility.

He does.

And I think Sheryl would have some of the credibility. But if one or two of them were to come out for this approach, or an amended approach to the Internet Bill of Rights, I think it’d make a big difference.

The Republicans are just reflexively ... they think regulation is bad. I mean, they’re about deregulation. And they don’t think the government should be getting involved. The point is, though, every time I’m on an airplane, I’m thankful for regulation. I’m glad that there’s some regulations. I’m glad every time I go to the supermarket or buy food for my 1-year-old son that there is regulation. Right? So, this is a place where common-sense regulation is going to enhance the experience. It’s not gonna be anti-business. And I’m not really concerned about Facebook or Google or Apple having the capital to continue to innovate.

You’re not kneecapping, in other words.

We’re not. In any way. And I’m very, very proud still. I like the label of being a Silicon Valley member of Congress. I don’t think someone representing New York would like to be called a member of Congress from Wall Street. I’m very proud of Silicon Valley, on balance. I think they’ve done a lot. But if they continue with a blind spot to these issues, then that goodwill will dissipate.

Right. I think it’s interesting ’cause the internet’s been very, very good to the Republicans. There is a lot of anger on the Democratic side. Over the emails, over all kinds of things.

Russia.

Yeah. Can’t be political. ’Cause if it is, you’re gonna go down that road, just anger. Anger towards what happened in the election.

It can’t be about the election. Just about the election.

Unless they screw up the next election.

Unless they screw up the next election. And maybe if the Democrats ...

Then there’ll be all hell to pay.

But look, even they’re acknowledging that they haven’t figured it out yet in terms of how these platforms can be abused. People understand that we’re going to a different economy and different world. All over this country. As you know, I’ve been out in West Virginia, in Kentucky, in Ohio, Michigan.

Yes. You’ve been doing a lot of visits.

People get it. And they have an anxiety. They wanna know, are their kids gonna be safe in this new world? And are they gonna have an economic future in this new world? And they’re open to it. It’s not like they’re negative towards tech, they just have a big question mark about what it’s gonna mean for them. And at this moment, it could go either way. And so, if I’m looking at it from a perspective of these tech leaders, I say, “I want these folks to have a positive view.”

The one thing that I think they don’t understand is how quickly a brand can disintegrate. Let me tell you, they don’t want to be in a situation of 8 percent approval like Congress. They’re sitting on something which is the most precious commodity.

How’s that going for you in Congress?

You know, it’s terrible. Any time I have a bad day with my wife she reminds me, “Well, you guys are at 8 percent.”

Ro, you’re likable enough.

Enough. That’s Obama’s famous line.

I know, yes, I know. None of us ladies liked that very much.

I’ll take it. I’ll take “likable enough.”

Okay, you’re likable enough.

So, I wanna finish up the last thing. And if we’ve just got a few minutes. You said to me, and I put in the column, “Tech is amoral, and it’s time to spend the next 10 years thinking harder about that.”

Yes. Well, this is the amoral ... And technology, it’s sort of the “Brave New World,” or “1984.” These authors who wrote about technology not being a moral positive force, or not being a moral negative force. It’s about how values shape these platforms. Could you think, and argue, that these platforms could be hugely positive forces for the world? Absolutely. If they facilitate greater empathy of people in other parts of the world. Greater communication. Greater ability to have jobs while staying in your community.

Could you envision a dystopian future? Absolutely. If they are amplifying hate speech, if they’re amplifying conflict, if they’re amplifying lies. And so, it’s for human beings, not artificial intelligence. It’s human judgment to shape these platforms and that’s why ultimately, I still believe in the liberal arts and humanities. And in a role for the humanities. I think what technology and technology leaders should recognize is there’s room for art and poetry and philosophy — and not just room, but a necessity for that.

To have some sense of how it impacts people.

To have some sense of how it impacts people. And to understand that ultimately those values are what drive humanity forward. That creating these platforms are extraordinarily beneficial if they are guided by the right values.

Right. And what’s interesting is that this is in their interest, which is kind of funny, when they think about that. Like, this is actually in their interest.

This is in their long-term interest in terms of their legacy. I mean, you’ve talked to them. I think they are earnest in that they wanna leave the world a better place. I really believe that.

I 100 percent believe they’re horrified. And many employees, too. That’s what’s the most important. More than the leaders, the employees are horrified by what they’ve wrought, in some ways. And proud of it too. ’Cause a lot of it is ... I do make this ... I constantly say, you don’t want to be the one who says these things are not great for humanity, but you do have to have a moment where you go, “All right, wait a minute. Like, what’s happening here?” And we didn’t even get into this. But tech addiction. You have to think about that.

Absolutely.

People are unhappier. They’re lonelier. They’re causing all kinds of problems. Well, okay it’s not drinking or smoking or something else, but it’s still something else we’ve got to think about without being the mommy state to users. But it does have elements of responsibility that you need to think about.

And I think it’s just as you’ve called for in your columns, it’s just taking a deep breath and reflecting about the larger purpose. It’s like being in Congress. You could spend your whole day thinking about, okay, you have these media interviews on a political side, you have fundraising, you’ve got these constituent meetings. You could just go day after day after day.

And then at some point you say, “Well, what am I trying to do? How am I trying to make the nation a better place? And have I achieved that? Or am I so caught up in the machinery?” And I think in the Valley, these folks were the underdogs for the longest time.

They still think of themselves as that.

And so there was this sense that they just need to come up with the most incredible innovations and move ahead and almost a tunnel vision. And they now are leading the world, in many senses. And maybe it’s time for a pause, and saying, “Wow. We’ve invented all of this. Now let’s think about how it should be used.”

As you know, I’ve never seen a group of people with more power and more money who feel like victims. Like, it’s fascinating. “Oh, you’re mean.” And I’m always like, “You could have me killed and dismembered and spread to the winds at any point.”

You understand that. You understand your power. And they don’t. That’s what I was trying to get Mark to acknowledge. In that podcast, a lot. The power that he has. Not just Mark, but all of them.

But they do. And I think it comes from the sense because they were not the traditional model of leadership. They’re not the ... They haven’t all gone to fancy schools with fancy degrees.

Well, some of them have fancy degrees.

Some of them do. But they tended to be upper-middle-class kids who really loved technology. But they’ve been thrust into this place where they are some of the most economically influential people in the world. And their platforms are used by everyone in the world.

I often say that my district produces more wealth than many nations. With that comes some responsibility. And with that comes criticism, by the way. I mean, I would love for some of these tech folks to go into politics, but one of the things they would realize is, the press they’re getting? Let me tell you, it gets much, much worse as you run for office.

Oh man, they’re not running for office.

Most people will tell you. Nine times out of 10, what you’re doing wrong and how you’re bad.

They’re not running for office. They’re gonna get a taste of it and run for the hills.

I know ... Look, Trump gets ... I mean, it’s appalling what Trump says when he talks about the press being the enemy of the people, etc. But look at how much of an assault he has taken. I think he didn’t understand it. He thought he was this business guy, was used to adulation.

And so were these tech leaders. Used to adulation.

But that criticism is the saving grace of our democracy. That at least there’s some accountability and they have to expect that. They’re now in positions, they’re more consequential than most members of Congress or senators.

Absolutely.

So, why wouldn’t they face scrutiny?

You’re welcome for being a pain in the ass. Anytime. It’s what we do best.

Anyway, thank you so much. This is really a fascinating ... Read about it in the New York Times, the column about it, and also I look forward to see what happens to it. I hope it doesn’t get lost down some congressional hole and then you sit around and argue about stupid things. Not that you do that ever, but seems like ...

I will keep fighting. Pushing through it.

It’s a little bit ... There’s things going on up there that are a little slow.

One of the things that I said is, we were debating the tax bill. And both the Republicans and the Democrats kept referring to 1986 and that as an ideal. And I said, “If you were coming from a foreign country or outer space, watching the Congress, you would just be perplexed. ‘Why are they, in 2018, talking about things in 1986?’ It’s a time warp.”

Yeah. Yeah. I was enjoying the session with the terms of service in Congress during those hearings. I’m like, “That is not our biggest issue here, let’s move on.”

Anyway, it was great talking to you. Thank you for coming on again. And thank you for talking about this. It’s a really important issue and it’s good that more congressman are more educated about this. It’s really amazing how few are. But hopefully in the future more will be.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.