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Congressman Ro Khanna participated in a telebriefing on “The Role of Silicon Valley in the 2020 Elections” on Tuesday, November 12, and answered questions from diverse ethnic media reporters on topics ranging from technology’s role on the 2020 elections and privacy issues, to the gig economy.  

Vandana Kumar, Publisher, India Currents, moderated a Q&A session that gave the congressman an opportunity to share his perspectives as a key lawmaker representing the Silicon Valley. 

Ro Khanna (California’s 17th district), sits on the House Armed Services, Budget, Oversight and Reform Committees, and is the first Vice-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

He talked at length about the role of giant tech companies and the fight against fake news. Khanna argued that social media companies have a major responsibility to be vigilant and voluntarily police their platforms to prevent hate speech, viral false ads, and election interference; blatant false speech or disregard for truth is not protected by the first amendment, Khanna said.

Khanna admitted he was concerned by Mark Zuckerberg’s views on fake news, but stressed that the “Facebooks of the world” aren’t the gatekeepers of blatantly false speech; that role belongs to an independent regulatory agency. Rather than an outright ban, a thoughtful regulatory framework to establish reasonable standards that require political ads to remove falsity, would better protect first-amendment traditions, he said.

Khanna is working with Congressman Kevin McCarthy on a bill that will allow social media companies to monitor and remove “bad actors” from election interference. 

Though he hopes that these bills will be passed before Election 2020, Khanna claimed that the hostile tone of political discourse and cable news should share the blame for false news. With the upcoming elections, Congress is concerned about security on social media platforms, he said, and tech companies need to do the right thing to avoid a repeat of 2016.

The congressman commented that healthcare is another issue getting attention in Congress, which is trying to lower the cost of prescription drugs, preserve the Affordable Care Act, and lower premiums.

Conhgressman Ro Khanna

Khanna who is co-chair of Bernie Sanders‘s 2020 presidential campaign, described the Medicare for All bill he is co-sponsoring with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (Washington’s 7th congressional district).The bill will give states the flexibility to use federal funding for Medicare and Medicaid when implementing the single payer system and include a caveat requiring states to get to 100% coverage in five years. A tax on corporations will pay for the bill, said Khanna, who proposes to cover any shortfall with supplemental federal matching funds.

On the role of big tech protections for privacy and consumer data, Khanna referred to his proposed Internet Bill of Rights that requires an individual’s consent before their data is collected or transferred, and the right to know how it’s used. Reforms can protect data from being manipulated against their interests and protect privacy, Khanna pointed out, but what’s really needed is well-crafted regulation that catches up with the pace of technological change.

As the Supreme Court determines the fate of DACA recipients, Khanna expressed his opposition to end DACA; he thinks Congress should act to offer protections to dreamers. He also is supportive of AB 5, California’s effort to regulate the gig economy. Gig economy workers should be treated as employees, and get the same benefits and rights, because with universal healthcare, contends Khanna, people won’t rely on their jobs for medical care.

Khanna agreed that affordable housing remains a challenge, though he acknowledged “constructive” private sector funding from Apple and Google towards affordable housing. He emphasized that low income housing needs additional federal investment and affordable building tax credits to expand.  Khanna stressed that what would make a difference are more temporary shelters and services for the homeless, and intervention programs to help with rent and mortgage payments, as exemplified by a successful pilot program in Santa Clara.

The telebriefing, sponsored by India Currents in partnership with Ethnic Media Services, was part of the ‘Conversations with Candidates’ series initiated by India Currents to expand ethnic media news access to elected officials and presidential candidates. The event  was attended by reporters from Silicon Valley Innovation Channel – DingDingTV, EPA Today, Phillipinenews, Chinese News, The American Bazaar, California Black Media and India West. 

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor to India Currents

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