By Martin Bosworth
With the war in Iraq, the faltering economy, and health care dominating the issues front for the candidates, it’s no wonder technology issues have largely been back-burnered in the mainstream political debate. But that doesn’t make them any less relevant or important–or less requiring of coverage.
CNet’s Declan McCullagh and Anne Broache sent 10 technology-oriented questions to the candidates, discussing net neutrality, Internet taxation, REAL ID, wiretapping, and other issues, and CNet has published the answers as part of their Technology Voter’s Guide. After the jump, we’ll take a closer look at who answered (and who didn’t), and what they said.
So far, the guide has answers from Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Ron Paul and John McCain, with John Edwards and Chris Dodd’s answers still to come. It’s worth noting that none of the frontrunner Republican candidates answered this questionnaire–not Romney, Giuliani, or Huckabee. On the Dem side, Neither Biden nor Richardson have a realistic chance of winning the nomination at this point, nor have either of them made technology innovation a primary focus of their campaigns, so their failing to answer is understandable, if regrettable. (Note that CNet apparently didn’t bother to include Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel.)
I urge everyone interested to read each questionnaire in depth, but here’re brief summaries:
John McCain favors a very hands-off, pro-market approach to technology issues. He opposes net neutrality laws and government actions to increase broadband development. He claims to oppose illegal wiretapping, but defers the question of retroactive immunity for telecom companies to following the “process” of investigating what they did. He supports REAL ID, opposes Internet taxation, is a strong proponent of greater regulation of social networking sites against sexual predators, and would favor expansion of H1-B visas for skilled immigrants according to “market conditions.”
Ron Paul, as you might expect, is pretty much anti-everything that would increase government activity with regard to technology. He’s against net neutrality legislation, and opposes REAL ID, warrantless wiretapping, regulation of social networking sites, governmental retention of data records from ISPs, and supports a permanent Internet tax ban and expansion of the H1-B program.
Hillary Clinton sees a much more central role for government in spurring broadband development and adoption, including offering tax incentives for building new connections in rural areas and improving the FCC’s data collection efforts on broadband penetration. She evinces strong support for net neutrality, tends to favor stronger laws against copyright infringement and tracking sex offenders, and supports expanding the H1-B visa program and extending the moratorium on Internet taxation.
Barack Obama supports full broadband availability for all Americans, and wants reformation of the Universal Service Fund as well as tax incentives and grants in order to spur development and ensure the money is spent right. In his words, he will “take a backseat to no one in his support of net neutrality,” and opposes warrantless wiretapping and retroactive immunity, as well as REAL ID. Obama advocates a stronger look at privacy policies and legislation for companies that trade in the sharing of information, prefers shifting a focus towards funding law enforcement over targeting social networking sites for sex offenders, and wants America to turn out more skilled workers with IT abilities (especially among minorities) in order to compete with H1-B holders.
As a thumbnail analysis, all of the candidates have responded in manners consistent with their positions, even if their positions aren’t always consistent.
McCain’s “hands off” attitude toward the Internet seems grounded in his very cushy relationship with certain telecom lobbyists, and is at odds with his “Protect the children!” attitude about social networking sites and willingness to support governmental intrusions into American lives in the name of “security.”
Paul’s answers are consistent with his Libertarian leanings–if it’s from the government, he wants it gone. I respect his cohesive policy framework, even if his attitude about net neutrality and broadband development is dead wrong.
Clinton’s answers are a frustrating mix of progressive innovation and regressive corporatism to me. While I think she’s on point with providing incentives towards broadband development, her support of expanding the H1-B visa program strikes a sour note when you consider how many American IT professionals are out of work, having been outsourced or replaced by foreign nationals working at lower pay.
Obama’s answers are the most forward-thinking for me, especially when he makes a point of addressing how our education system is not only failing minorities in general, but specifically in technology and tech-related areas, and that we can’t rely on foreign workers to fill that gap forever. And to this date, no candidate has eclipsed him on the net neutrality issue that I can see.
Overall, I’m unsurprised at these answers, but glad to have them in concrete to refer to for the future. I’ll publish a follow-up post next week once Edwards’ and Dodd’s positions are live. This is a welcome and necessary look at how our potential leaders have (or don’t have) a handle on some extremely relevant issues of technology that affect us all.