On this particular issue, at least, it may not matter who the VP pick is, given the number of ongoing tech antitrust probes. “The regulatory exposure is already very far along” for the biggest tech giants, said Jason Kint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, a publishers’ trade group that’s been heavily critical of Google and Facebook. “And I think regardless of who the vice presidential candidate is, it’s going to move at a rapid pace.”
Vice presidents may not always have the most direct impact on policies. And other candidates who were passed over, including Warren, could still have an impact if chosen for a cabinet role. Still, every VP pick sends a public message about how a potential administration might set priorities or approach certain issues. Here are some key areas in which tech experts say Harris could play a significant role.
Privacy and data protection
While Harris was not vocal on breaking up tech giants, she is widely regarded as an early leader on consumer privacy issues, several experts said.
Since then, California has passed one of the toughest data privacy laws in the nation, but there’s still no federal privacy standard. Given Harris’s congressional experience, she may serve as a critical link between the White House and Congress on privacy, said Susan Hintze, a privacy lawyer and partner at Hintze Law.
“Many folks don’t realize she built her political career championing privacy issues against the backdrop of the tech world,” Hintze said. “I suspect as VP she may continue that fight, and we may see more privacy initiatives at the federal level.”
Encryption and law enforcement
As a former attorney general and prosecutor, Harris is closely linked to law enforcement, and her record on policing has been deeply scrutinized during the Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, a top priority of the FBI and Justice Department has been accessing the encrypted communications of criminal suspects, an issue that’s caused a rift between Washington and Silicon Valley; technologists argue giving police special access to read encrypted messages would weaken privacy and security for everyone.
Harris may face similar quandaries over other technology issues related to policing. Facial recognition, artificial intelligence, drone surveillance — all of these are likely to become major issues Harris may need to weigh in on during a Biden administration.
Remote work, immigration and good government
Some experts say Harris is unlikely to be mired so deeply in specific policy issues and instead may play a larger role on big-picture topics like immigration, intellectual property and broadband access, which are also important to the tech industry.
These types of issues hew more closely to the overall task facing a potential Biden administration, which will be to continue managing the economic fallout from the pandemic.
“How do we create a vibrant economy, and how do we make social justice in a world of remote everything?” said Blair Levin, a former chief of staff at the Federal Communications Commission. “That’ll probably be a fundamental tech issue in the next administration.”