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Inside The Republican Party's Meeting With Tech Lobbyists

During a closed door "listening session" with tech and telecom trade groups, the Republican National Committee fielded a discussion on encryption, immigration, and light-touch regulation ahead of the party's July convention.

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The Republican National Committee (RNC) hosted dozens of representatives from tech, telecom, and media trade groups during a closed-door meeting Monday afternoon, as party members aim to shape the GOP's 2016 platform.

Billed as a tech and innovation listening session, the meeting featured a broad range of topics from the world of tech policy, including encryption, immigration, and the future of regulation for the so-called on-demand economy, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Politico reported last week that the groups scheduled to attend included the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), BSA — The Software Alliance, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which represent tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

The Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the Recording Industry Association of America were also invited, a person familiar with the meeting told BuzzFeed News.

The groups themselves did the bulk of the talking, airing out a slew of policy concerns, several people told BuzzFeed News. They described the session as collegial, though inconclusive. Participants were asked by the RNC to consider the party's 2012 platform as a starting point and to offer updates and improvements. And in turn, some of the trade groups raised policy issues outlined in a letter sent in May to the presidential candidates of both major parties.

The open letter, signed by 13 tech industry organizations, urged the candidates to "welcome high-skilled immigrants" by improving the ability of U.S. companies to recruit educated foreign graduates. A section on the on-demand economy discouraging party leaders from pursuing "regulatory mechanisms to protect incumbents" was also included.

The candidates were asked to protect freedom of speech and data privacy as well, by ensuring that web platforms like Twitter and Facebook are "not unreasonably liable for third-party speech" and that the candidates support policies that "narrowly target government access to user data."

RNC spokesperson Lindsay Walters told BuzzFeed News the Republican Party's meetings with business leaders are designed to bring in a wide range of perspectives to help ensure an inclusive platform process. "We are seeking input on how the Republican platform can best communicate our party’s principles," Walters said.

Michael Petricone, the senior vice president of government affairs at the CTA, told BuzzFeed News he's disappointed tech innovation hasn't played a larger role in the campaign thus far. The CTA was one of the groups that attended the meeting.

"The tech industry is world leading, its driving the economy and it should be a focus of discussion for both campaigns," he said. "We want to make sure those issues are heard." Petricone said taking a stance on the regulatory battle over ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft is one way the eventual nominees could attract support, especially from younger voters.

While some tech policy issues currently being debated in Washington are presenting lawmakers with novel dilemmas, such as addressing the fears of law enforcement over the spread of consumer encryption or defining Silicon Valley's role in policing speech and limiting terrorist propaganda, other issues have already formed part of the GOP's agenda.

The RNC's 2012 platform included a policy of "strategic immigration," to grant additional work visas to foreigners with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. Network Neutrality, the federal policy that allows internet providers to be more tightly regulated, was also part of the previous platform. "Luddite" is how the RNC had previously described the Obama administration's approach to telecommunications, characterizing net neutrality as "trying to micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network."

While an appeals court ruling on net neutrality is imminent, a prolonged political battle across party lines is expected to play out following the decision, pitting broadband providers against much of Silicon Valley. Proponents of net neutrality believe the policy protects consumers and encourages competition in the market by mandating that internet providers can not discriminate against certain types of web content or charge websites and services for higher speeds or "fast lanes." But Republican lawmakers have traditionally opposed the policy, despite the tech sector's robust support.

Hamza Shaban is a technology policy reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Hamza Shaban at Hamza.Shaban@buzzfeed.com.

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