By Joseph Menn
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden’s top technology adviser helped craft California’s landmark online privacy law and recently condemned a controversial federal statute that protects internet companies from liability, indicators of how the Biden administration may come down on two key tech policy issues.
Bruce Reed, a former Biden chief of staff who is expected to take a major role in the new administration, helped negotiate with the tech industry and legislators on behalf of backers of a ballot initiative that led to the 2018 California Consumer Privacy Act. Privacy advocates see that law as a possible model for a national law.
Reed also co-authored a chapter in a book published last month denouncing the federal law known as Section 230, which makes it impossible to sue internet companies over the content of user postings. Both Republicans and Democrats have called for reforming or abolishing 230, which critics say has allowed abuse to flourish on social media.
Reed, a veteran political operative, was chief of staff for Biden from 2011 to 2013 when Biden was U.S. vice president. In that role he succeeded Ron Klain, who was recently named incoming White House chief of staff. Reed then served as president of the Broad Foundation, a major Los Angeles philanthropic organization, and then as an adviser to Laurene Powell Jobs Emerson Collective in Palo Alto, California.
The Biden campaign identified Reed as its top person on tech policy but declined to make him available for an interview.
Reed, 60, became involved in the California privacy campaign in his capacity as a strategist for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit set up by Stanford University lecturer James Steyer to advise parents and companies on healthy content for children.
Tech companies initially lined up in staunch opposition to the ballot initiative that set the stage for the law, which gives consumers the right to learn what information about them is being given to which companies and to have that information deleted.
But Reed helped peel Apple Inc away from the pack by drafting language it could live with, according to Alastair Mactaggart, the real estate developer who masterminded the ballot initiative.
“He understands that there needs to be good regulation,” Mactaggart said. ‘He wants to get something done. He wasn’t an ideologue who would take his toys and go home if it wasn’t perfect.
With the initiative then a more credible threat, the rest of the industry was willing to come to the table as California State Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg drafted a last-minute bill that kept most of the initiative’s power but offered big tech companies a chance to soften it in following years. Reed was the core of the group that worked on that bill, Hertzberg told Reuters.
“This initiative would not have happened without Bruce, there’s no question. He took it seriously when everyone else didn’t,” Hertzberg said.
Reed’s position on 230 could prove more controversial. In a book published last month, “Which Side of History? How Technology Is Reshaping Democracy and Our Lives,” Steyer and Reed co-authored a chapter that called 230 an enemy of children. Though 230 had allowed tech freedom to flourish, they wrote that it has now gone against the desires of its backers by giving companies a financial incentive to encourage hate and abuse.
“If they sell ads that run alongside harmful content, they should be considered complicit in the harm,” Steyer and Reed wrote. “If their algorithms promote harmful content, they should be held accountable for helping redress the harm. In the long run, the only real way to moderate content is to moderate the business model.”
(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Matthew Lewis)