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Lawmakers lend an ear to tech worries

Improving the economy and boosting security top the agenda at a gathering of Democrats and tech execs. Intel?s Andy Grove takes the stage, presenting a wish list to politicians.

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Improving the economy and boosting homeland security topped the agenda at a meeting between Democrat lawmakers and Silicon Valley executives on Monday.

The New Democrat Network's West Coast retreat, an annual event, provides a chance for members of Congress to listen to concerns of those in the tech industry.

Much has changed since the last gathering, including the Sept. 11 attacks, a deepening tech slowdown, and a slew of corporate accounting scandals.

"The whole country's a more humble place," said NDN President Simon Rosenberg, who called the event the political group's most important yearly gathering.

Discussions focused on improving homeland security through technology, resolving the fight over digital rights management and piracy, and recovering from the loss of faith in the markets.

Silicon Valley executives asked members of Congress for help in getting the economy back on track. During his keynote presentation, Intel Chairman Andy Grove presented a wish list to the politicians.

He asked them to develop a comprehensive policy on China--which he said was eclipsing Japan as Intel's second-largest market behind the United States. Grove also asked lawmakers to hold off on legislation that would require digital rights management technology in new products and to think hard before passing legislation that would regulate 802.11 wireless technology. He called the Telecommunications Act of 1996 a "big failure" and described a new Hollywood-backed anti-piracy bill as a "horrendous" piece of legislation.

"I urge you to be very thoughtful and, if anything, slow" in adopting new legislation, he said. Grove also urged caution when lawmakers came to address accounting scandals, saying that the treatment of stock options in particular was becoming a highly politicized, "thump-your-chest" issue. He said changing one accounting rule under political pressure could lead to the unnecessary alteration of other rules. Intel recently said it would not treat stock options as an expense in its financial statements, saying there was no "good" way to value them.

Security warning
During the homeland security panel, William Perry, former Secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration, said the United States needs to better prepare for an attack on its cyberinfrastructure. He said terrorists could bring the country's financial center to its knees by attacking its communications centers. He also said technology could alleviate some effects of a bioterror attack by allowing first responders to detect dangerous agents and communicate during a crisis.

Perry and several lawmakers pointed out that much of the technology needed to deal with such attacks is owned by the private sector.

Symantec CEO John Thompson reiterated concerns about cyberattacks. "I think there's a huge threat that faces our nation that we haven't stepped up to," he said. He asked lawmakers to make education a priority, saying between 50,000 and 75,000 computer security jobs could go unfilled in the coming years because of an untrained work force.

Ten members of Congress attended the event, including Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Ca., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Ca., and New Democrat Coalition founder Cal Dooley, D.-Ca.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., told the audience of about 120 people that California is important to the country as a whole, both economically and when it comes to spurring innovation. "We like to think of it as the capital of imagination in the world," she said of her home state.