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Rep. Ro Khanna On Silicon Valley And Facebook


This coming week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will sit before House and Senate committees. He'll be answering questions about how a conservative political firm improperly obtained data about up to 87 million Facebook users. The Cambridge Analytica scandal looks like it may be a tipping point when it comes to how the public and how politicians view social media.

Congressman Ro Khanna is a Democrat, and he represents Silicon Valley in Congress, and he joins us now. Congressman, thanks for coming on the show.

RO KHANNA: Absolutely.

DETROW: So what do you want to hear from Mark Zuckerberg this week? What questions do you think he needs to answer?

KHANNA: Well, I'm glad he's testifying. I'm glad he's doing media interviews, and I hope he will come out for well-crafted regulations. I personally have advocated that we need an Internet Bill of Rights. It's time that tech leaders like Zuckerberg embrace that, including a right to know what your data is, a right to be able to transfer your data, a right to be able to delete your data. There are a number of commonsense provisions that we need enshrined into law.

DETROW: Do you think there's room, especially in an election year, to get something passed that deals with this?

KHANNA: I absolutely think there is. The reason is that even Republicans and Libertarians will support, I believe, an individual's right to privacy to their own data. This is a case where technology has moved lightning-fast, and the laws haven't caught up. There should be some commonsense principles that will assure the American public that their rights are going to be protected online.

DETROW: You know, both political parties have long embraced Silicon Valley, and you yourself got a lot of key endorsements from tech figures, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. But from the beginning, the whole point of social media was to monetize people's personal data. And in recent years, campaigns have done a lot of bragging about how efficiently they can microtarget voters. So what's changed here?

KHANNA: Well, I'm still very proud of representing Silicon Valley, proud of having Sheryl's support, and I think she can play a very constructive role now in articulating the right type of regulation that we need. I guess what I'd say is I still believe in the power of social media. The Parkland kids are using Facebook Live to get their message out and mobilize - and Twitter to help mobilize a new generation. It would be wrong to say, let's not have social media, when the next generation is being inspired politically by it.


KHANNA: But what 2016 showed us is that these technologies can be very dangerous if they are abused.

DETROW: Sandberg and Zuckerberg have both said in recent days that they misjudged this. They focused too much on the positive and not enough on the potential downsides of social media. Do you think Congress misjudged this as well?

KHANNA: I do. I put more blame on Congress. I mean, we shouldn't rely on 30-year-old entrepreneurs to come up with legal frameworks for protecting our national security or protecting American citizens. This is an area where Congress, I think, has been derelict, and where we need to step up and do our jobs.

DETROW: You know, to the joy and relief of congressional reporters like me, Congress has been in recess over the past two weeks, so you've been able to spend a lot of time in your district. And I'm wondering what the mood is there. Is there a circling of the wagons in the tech community?

KHANNA: There's a sense that tech needs to get out ahead of this - that we need to take the lead on being a positive force when it comes to job creation and when it comes to protecting American citizens. So I think there's been a social, political awakening of the valley - a recognition that they really need to engage in thinking about the common good and the proper types of regulation to make sure that they safeguard their reputation.

DETROW: That's Congressman Ro Khanna. He represents California's 17th Congressional District, which includes a lot of Silicon Valley. Thanks for coming on the show.

KHANNA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.