On Wednesday evening, Capitol Hill got its own version of Las Vegas’ annual Consumer Electronics Show, with tech industry leaders on hand not to lobby, they insist, but simply to show off their wares.
“No one is there to lobby for anything,” said Cat Matsuda, director of development for the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, which organized the show. “They’re there to show their technologies and to talk about the potential impact of the technology on the forecast for the upcoming year.”
Matsuda said the purpose of the exhibition is to give companies, nonprofits and government agencies the chance to educate Members and staff.
“The overall goal of the advisory committee is to provide education for Members of Congress and government staff regarding Internet and high-tech policy,” she said.
Wednesday night’s Kickoff Reception and Technology Exhibition in the Hart Senate Office Building marked the 15th year the event has happened. The preceding annual State of the Net Conference — which brings leaders in the technology world together with staffers and policymakers to discuss industry issues — took place a week earlier.
For some of the 25 attendees — including the Federal Trade Commission, voter information firm Democracy Live, and social media platforms Facebook and YouTube — their presence on the Hill seems fitting.
Research in Motion, whose devices make up a majority of smartphone devices on the Hill by a wide margin, attended the event to showcase the company’s new BlackBerry 7 and the PlayBook tablet, according to Clint Robinson, the company’s vice president of government relations.
“The U.S. Government is one of our largest customers, and we took this opportunity to make sure Members and staff are familiar with the latest BlackBerry products,” Robinson said in an email.
Also in attendance was POPVOX, a company that helps Members connect digitally with their constituents. The product on display at the exhibition was the firm’s new iPad app, MarkUp, which allows Members and staff to view and take notes on any piece of legislation.
“It’s the first iPad app of its kind developed with the Congressional staffer and lobbyist in mind,” POPVOX co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Rachna Choudhry said.
Choudhry explained that the app allows users to see what POPVOX-using constituents are saying about pending legislation, which could allow Members to quote real-time constituent reaction while the bill is being discussed.
Not everything on display had such an obvious connection to Congress.
At the Xbox Kinect booth, Microsoft employees held a demonstration of the video game console for Members and staffers. In addition to bringing attention to the gaming system — which makes the user the controller through a device that recognizes the players’ voices and gestures — Microsoft brought attention to its “Get Game Smart” campaign, which encourages parents to learn how to make the best use of the parental controls in the system.
Those controls include tools that allow parents to restrict the amount of time their children can play video games or limit the users with whom their children can communicate.
“We have really tried to evangelize and educate parents, caregivers and educators about not only the tools … but also some of the issues that are arising online,” said Caroline Curtin, policy counsel in Microsoft’s U.S. government affairs office.
Curtin said she hoped the 3-year-old campaign’s presence at the exhibition would encourage Members of Congress to spread the word.
“We would love for more people to be aware of the campaign, for more Members to let their constituents know that there is this resource out there and available to them,” she said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.