Thomas J. Donohue Thomas J. Donohue
Advisor and Former Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


April 10, 2017


New innovations and technologies are fertile ground for economic growth. They lead to startup companies, job creation, and a rush of capital and investment. But once a technology gets big, it’s never long before government regulators and aggressive trial lawyers swoop in to crash the party. Hasty regulations and expansive liability stunt the sector’s growth and slam the brakes on job creation.

When startups and emerging industries are forced to wade through a thicket of new rules or defend against meritless litigation, guess what they can’t do? Innovate. And considering the pace of technological advancement today, standing still is the same as falling behind. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce established C_TEC, the Chamber Technology Engagement Center, to help tech companies navigate these thorny—and often undefined—policy, legal, and regulatory issues. One of the center’s main objectives is to serve as a convener, bringing together entrepreneurs and government leaders to shape the outcomes of technology policy debates.

C_TEC and the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform recently hosted an event in Silicon Valley focusing on the liability ramifications of emerging technologies. Exciting growth occurs in the new and unregulated spaces of our economy, but we also know that the right legal and regulatory framework plays an important role in making new technologies safe and secure. To discover how to strike the right balance, the event featured three panels on growing sectors of the tech economy: drones, the Internet of Things, and autonomous vehicles. Each panel considered mounting liability issues and discussed how to fend off excessive litigation and rushed regulation.

The panelists raised the question of who is responsible when a driverless car causes a wreck. Outsize liability in the autonomous vehicle space, particularly during development, could seriously undermine the growth of this technology. Numerous privacy issues related to the Internet of Things were also discussed. How much personal data is the wearable tech on your wrist or the smart security system in your home allowed to store or transmit? The safety issues involving drones, especially as related to the new regulatory framework, also provoked interesting conversation.

These questions and countless others involving new technologies are more than just abstract legal debates; they affect the future of our economy and job creation. The Chamber doesn’t have all the answers, but we can help move the dialogue forward by convening leaders from industry, government, and law to examine the issues and explore solutions.

About the authors

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue is advisor and former chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Read more