US Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) wants to establish a federal watchdog that would focus on overseeing digital platforms and tech giants. The lawmaker has introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act (PDF) in Congress in hopes of establishing a five-person federal body appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. They would be experts in relevant fields, including computer science, software development and technology policy.
The commission would be in charge of assuring "the fairness and safety of algorithms on digital platforms" as well as promoting competition. It would also have the authority to conduct investigations, impose penalties and to set new rules, such as those that ensure moderation transparency and the protection of consumers. The commission would create requirements for regular public risk assessments on the distribution of harmful content on digital platforms, as well.
Under the commission, a "Code Council" comprised of technologists and public interest experts will conjure up standards and policies that could be implemented. In addition, the commission will establish a research office with 20 dedicated employees to conduct internal research and coordinate with outside academics and experts.
As mentioned in the legislation's announcement, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are in charge of overseeing digital platforms today. Bennett argues, however, that they lack the expert staff and tech-oriented culture necessary for robust oversight.
The Washington Post reports that Bennett's motivation was his personal experience viewing disinformation as part of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as seeing how social media has affected his children. As the publication notes, though, it remains to be seen whether the legislation would be approved by the Senate, where Democrats have a 50-50 majority.