(ArsTechnica) -- Amidst all the shouting over Tuesday's transfer of the House of Representatives to Republican control, a distinct cry of pain could be heard for the loss of one voice -- Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA). Republican Morgan Griffith, majority leader of Virginia's House of Delegates, has taken Boucher's seat.
As Chair of the influential Subcommittee on the Internet of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Boucher's imprint on tech issues -- particularly online privacy -- was clear as a bell. Now he is gone.
"Tonight the Congress has lost one of its most intelligent and tech-saavy members," a press statement from Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge declared late Tuesday. "Rick Boucher has been one of the most moderate and thoughtful voices on communications and intellectual property policy."
A long shadow
Earlier this year, Boucher proposed a bill that would bar companies from using a cell phone's geolocation information without a consumer's consent. Ditto for content on race, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. For most other information, a simple opt-out would keep data from being used by first- or third-party vendors.
Many of Boucher's Internet policy oriented Democratic colleagues survived this election. These would include pro-net neutrality stalwart Edward Markey (D-MA) as well as Henry Waxman (D-CA), who unsuccessfully tried to push a compromise open Internet bill through Congress last month. Other Democratic survivors include Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who launched bills against loud television commercials and for automatic fiber conduits included in every road construction project.
Meet the replacements
But in the next Congress these Democrats will sit on the minority side of the aisle. The big Republican voices that will replace them on the House Commerce Committee have been very vocal on communications technology issues. They include former committee Chair Joe Barton (R-TX), who ultimately refused to go along with Waxman's net neutrality compromise, Fred Upton (R-MS), and Cliff Stearns (R-FL). The latter takes particular interest in mobile phone and wireless spectrum concerns.
Still, despite all the "no compromise" rhetoric that's flying about, there may be some continuity in various policy areas -- particularly regarding online privacy. In early October, Barton and Markey sent a long list of tough questions to Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and other companies about their Web privacy policies, particularly as they related to cookies and data retention.
Barton has just released a statement in response to Facebook's answers.
"It's good that Facebook was in a hurry to respond to our concerns, but the fact remains that some third-party applications were knowingly transferring personal information in direct violation of Facebook's privacy promises to its users," he warned. "I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can't unless the people's right to privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done. In the next Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee and our subcommittees are going to put Internet privacy policies in the crosshairs."
A privacy bill on the way?
And there will have to be some concurrence with the Democrats on these hot-button questions, because they've retained control over the Senate. That means that Senate Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will remain a critical voice on Web-related concerns on that side of the aisle -- Rockefeller warned just last week that he may submit a privacy bill to Congress himself.
So while the partisan rhetoric may fly on questions like net neutrality, various forms of consensus may also surface on occasion, particularly in areas like online privacy and getting more spectrum licenses to the wireless industry. It all depends on who winds up where in the next Capitol Hill.
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