Message from Congressional Leaders to CompTIA Members: Help Us Help You

Ever wonder how things get done in Washington? Perhaps more importantly, do you wonder how you can help educate and influence the opinions of your state’s Representatives and Senators on issues that matter to your business, your clients and, quite possibly, to the entire IT industry? Despite all the skepticism associated with today’s political environment, it’s important to remember that there is still an effective process for amplifying your voice in Washington. As your IT industry association, CompTIA can make that practice a whole lot easier, and will help ensure that elected officials hear what you and many other business constituents have to say on specific topics.

The DC Fly-In provides not only a showcase for the CompTIA public policy team’s legislative efforts each year, but it affords solution providers and other tech stakeholders the opportunity to gain the attention of Washington’s movers and shakers. Let me be clear: this is not a political rally or cheerleading effort—the DC Fly-In is a well-constructed forum for those interested in advancing the interests of the tech community and those who utilize their services.

Over the course of two days, I had the opportunity to observe and take part in numerous federal policy discussions related to IT advances and a host of channel-related issues. Counter to what some may have expected, these 'Washington insider” presenters were extremely knowledgeable in matters that affect the channel, and offered detailed insight into the efforts they and others are making on the industry’s behalf.

Frankly, some of our elected officials are not as comfortable with technology as they should be (a few still don’t use email, and faxing is still a common occurrence). With Cybersecurity, encryption and data protection measures all making headlines, and with Congress and federal agencies possibly addressing them this year, they need input from skilled IT professionals.

The good news on that front is that some are improving their knowledge and understanding of the issues, either on their own or with the help of more technically-proficient staffers. In fact, one congressional speaker at the CompTIA DC Fly-In has roots in the IT community. U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene held executive roles at Microsoft and Nimble Technology, the latter as CEO and president. She understands the issues and called on IT specialists to help educate their own elected officials.

But that doesn’t mean she and the others who support reforms and incentives to improve IT infrastructure and security can push policy advances on their own. They need help carrying the message to those not as actively involved or who don’t understand how specific legislation could help or hurt the business community. The reality is that few bills are likely to make it through Congress this year, with just 111 days on the legislative calendar (shortened by an especially active campaign season). Without a strong focus on the issues that matter most, they could fall by the wayside in 2016.

Informative Insight from The Hill
The legislation championed during this year’s DC Fly-In involved proposed reforms to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The current statute allows the government to obtain private messages older than 180 days with just an administrative subpoena—including web-based emails, social media messages, text messages, and voicemails—as well as any private document stored in the cloud. When it originally passed, there was little data stored on third-party servers and few (if any) envisioned the privacy concerns it presents today. Reforms would afford cloud-stored data the same fourth amendment protections we have with information kept on our hard drives or in file cabinets. Past court decisions have extended those rights to certain parts of the country, and channel companies should have the same expectation regardless of where their business or clients are based.

ECPA reform seems like a no-brainer, with more than 300 members of Congress already supporting it and markup of the bill expected in March. But because it's an election year, with the limited focus mentioned previously, nothing is certain. Hence the focus for this year’s Fly-In attendees, helping stress the need for quick passage of the legislation to bring the U.S. up to par with international law, and to clarify the rules for solution providers, vendors and other IT professionals.

Several speakers stressed their support for the ECPA reforms on day two of the DC Fly-In, including Representatives Michael Burgess (TX), Suzan DelBene (WA) and Jim Langevin (RI). Each highlighted a number of other issues and legislation that impact the IT channel as well. Burgess outlined the status of a national data breach notification bill which would standardize rules across the U.S. He also related the challenges Congress faces when it comes to keeping pace with technology, using 3-D printing and its trademark infringement implications as a prime example.

Congresswoman DelBene encouraged providers to investigate the impact of the USA Freedom Act and other measures on privacy protection and individual rights. With a call by some (not her) to create backdoors to encryption, businesses’ data security and network protection could be at risk.

The great thing about the CompTIA DC Fly-In is realizing how much most of our legislators agree on…at least when it comes to IT and security. In fact, Representative Langevin echoed many of the same sentiments in his own address and Q&A session, but he also stressed the need to increase the sharing of cyber threat information between businesses and the federal government.

Whether you agree with lawmakers’ stances on pending legislation or their voting record on other issues, every IT business owner should be having these types of discussions with their own congressional leaders. Engage in meaningful and respectful debates, and provide tangible evidence to support your position. You may not agree in every instance, but chances are you (and they) will be more informed on the issues.