Republican lawmaker says tech execs should watch what they say

Outgoing Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California thinks it’s bad for Silicon Valley to fight with President Trump. Oh, and he’s also glad net neutrality is dead.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
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Congressman Darrell Issa says tech execs aren't doing themselves any favors by letting their politics get in the way of policy.

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Congressman Darrell Issa says tech leaders speaking out against President Donald Trump are making a mistake. Although the Republican representative from California isn't seeking reelection in 2018, that's probably not a surprising thing to hear.

But as one of Trump's point people on tech during the 2016 transition, and one of the go-to voices on tech issues among Republicans, Issa's comments hold some significance.

He says that leaders increasingly criticizing Trump and his administration on both policy and social issues are making a mistake. For example, Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is gay, criticized Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military in July. "We are indebted to all who serve," he said. "Discrimination against anyone holds everyone back."

"I stand with the Dreamers," wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, after Trump announced he was rescinding an Obama-era program called DACA, which protected undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation.

"Your politics and your policies don't have to always match," Issa said, in an 37-minute interview at the CES gadget expo in Las Vegas earlier this month. "The tech leaders who are officers of public companies are really ill-advised to make those statements because those statements, quite frankly, are required to be in the best interest of their stockholders and often they're not."

Issa, who has served in Congress for 17 years, is known for his partisan speaking style, which came up even in his interview after he challenged me on some of the questions I asked, saying they showed bias. His views give a window into how the Republican party and those in power in Washington are approaching their relationship with the tech industry.

Perhaps most important, Issa's take on government and tech give a sense of how hard it may be for the tech industry to successfully lobby to enforce net neutrality rules, which are designed to ensure the equal treatment of internet traffic. Netflix, Amazon and Google -- and 83 percent  of Americans -- disagreed with the recent vote to scrap the 2015 rules to enforce net neutrality.

Watch this: This Republican lawmaker says tech execs should keep politics to themselves

Issa calls those rules  a "power grab" by the FCC chairman under the Obama administration at the time and said he wouldn't support a bill in Congress to enshrine equal traffic rules as a law.

To him, agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, whose mandate is fighting anticompetitive behavior and protecting consumers, should handle net neutrality concerns. Critics of Issa's approach say the FTC isn't focused exclusively on the telecommunications sector, so it's unlikely the agency can deliver the same kind of scrutiny that the FCC can. More important, the FTC lacks the FCC's rulemaking authority, which means FTC enforcement extends only to companies' voluntary public commitments when it comes to the internet.

"For decades, we have had the Federal Trade Commission have the ability to look at both monopolistic behavior, per se, and unfair trade practices and intervene," he said. And if there needs to be more FTC enforcement, he said, "I'm all for it."

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