Five tech themes disturbingly absent from the presidential election

Five tech themes disturbingly absent from the presidential election

Summary: Technology and IT infrastructure policy discussion has been virtually absent from two campaigns that have relied heavily on technology and IT infrastructure to run their campaigns.


If you've been watching the presidential debates recently, you may have noticed that some key issues were absent from discussion.

No questions were asked by any debate moderator about technology or the Internet. Vrtually no mention was made by either candidate about technology issues (although President Obama did toss out the phrase "cybersecurity" near the end of the last debate).

These issues are also disturbingly absent from the candidates Web sites as well. If you visit Barack Obama's site, you'll see the following issues grid:


Likewise, if you visit Mitt Romney's site, you'll see the following list of issues:

2012-10-24-romney issues

Here are five themes that were absent from the debates, and barely discussed during the election by the candidates or press.

Tech Theme #1: Net neutrality

I am a strong proponent of net neutrality. I believe that all traffic on the Internet needs to be treated equally, and if carriers and ISPs can begin sculpting content, all the wonderful voices we now get to hear might be squelched in favor of a few big-money-backed Web sites and perspectives.

There is exactly one mention of net neutrality on the Web site, found in his Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth. The only real mention is the following quote:

The Federal Communications Commission imposed network neutrality regulations (defying both the legislature and judiciary) that restrict how Internet service providers manage the digital transmissions flowing through their networks.

The site lists 679 mentions of net neutrality, but many of them appear to be forum posts. What we know is that the Obama Administration FCC has passed partial net neutrality, essentially protecting hard-wired lines, but leaving mobile open to unrestricted traffic sculpting.

Since mobile traffic is clearly the way of the future, it's not clear that the current FCC limited protections for network traffic will serve us into the future.

I give both candidates a low-to-failing grade.

Tech Theme #2: Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity gets four Google results on, and 459 on Again, many of the Obama results appear to be discussion boards.

In Fact Sheet: The Romney Plan for an American Century, Romney has two strong mentions of cybersecurity. He recommends an initiative to develop a unified cybersecurity strategy to defend against cyberattacks.

During the Obama administration, President Obama has taken similar measures. Unfortunately, the various cybersecurity bills that would unify America's cyberdefense strategy have gotten mired in politics and the very real problems of privacy vs. security and mandates vs. security.

Both candidates are clearly aware of the problem, both clearly understand something has to be done, and both clearly have to contend with Congress.

I give both candidates a passing grade, but only provisionally. I give Congress its usual failing grade.

Next up... Privacy, Patriot Act, and IT infrastructure...


Topics: Government, Government US, Privacy, Security


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • they are just aiming for the masses

    the people who know a lot about the subjects you bring up are probably already decided on their candidate. The broad appeal to voters, those subjects go pretty much above their head and they wouldnt understand the intricacies of most of them, so there is no point in delving too much into it or publicizing it.

    Similar to before, when 99.9% of malware was designed for Windows. Yes, there were Mac's and Linux systems out there, but you go for the large audience, not the small one.
    • this is the dawn of the new era

      Windoze will be no more and Obama's socialism will die for good!
      Ballmer should write his resignation and apologise for holding back the progress for 2 decades.
      Obama should start writting a very gracious and long concession speach so everybody should rally behind Romney's 5 point plan.
      LlNUX Geek
      • Is it?

        For most of my life, I've been hearing that we're only one election cycle away from obliterating the Bad Guy Party, yet both of our two traditional parties are still with us, and likely to be for the foreseeable future.

        Maybe we shouldn't wait for the Millennium to learn how to talk civilly with people we disagree with.
        John L. Ries
      • 5 point?

        Please list the 5 points before Romney changes his mind.
    • Partisan politics also plays a role

      Most politicians don't like to cross party lines or focus on issues that might divide their supporters. Except for net neutrality, most tech issues don't fall neatly along party lines, which is a disincentive for politicians to talk about them.

      And yes, it's also true that few non-techies understand tech issues or why they're important.
      John L. Ries
    • RE: Politicians are probably tech illiterate

      Although I hate to say it the last technically literate player on the national stage was probably Gore. I can't see Romney knowing or caring and Obama strikes me as liking Mac because it's cool. I do agree about the patriot act or more broadly that a security vs privacy question should have been asked. Not surprised it was not because MSM never discusses it.
  • When was the last time you had your sense of proportion checked?

    With everything going on in the U.S. and the world (whether seen from left or right), this is what you think is critical?
    • Yes, actually

      Freedom, privacy, and the security of our citizens are among the most important jobs of government.

      But if you think that's all I care about, you obviously haven't read the bulk of my work.
      David Gewirtz
    • More to the point

      Just because there are more pressing issues doesn't mean that the less pressing issues should go unaddressed. Not everyone who works in a hospital is a triage surgeon - just because there are people who need immediate medical attention doesn't mean that floors don't need to be mopped and hospital gowns don't need to be laundered. Similarly, while there are indeed plenty of controversial topics that both candidates did need to discuss - and should have discussed, I think what David is saying here is that neither candidate has given ANY airtime to technology-oriented issues. Just because jobs, healthcare, and the economy are big ticket items and big problems that need a lot more time to address, doesn't mean that there isn't room for the tech-based answers that should be at least mentioned on the websites but aren't.

  • The spam filter needs to be toned down

    Several of my posts have fallen afoul of it, and I have no idea why.
    John L. Ries
    • The profanity filter needs work too

      I was shocked to have triggered that one.
      John L. Ries
      • I agree.

        I got hit with the profanity filter yesterday, without a single profane word.
  • Two more tech issues that need discussion

    Patents and copyrights.
    John L. Ries
  • ZDNet's Profanity Filter Doesn't Like Words Containing "Ti‌t"!

    I tried writing postings with the words "ti‌thing" and "competi‌tion" in them, and was baffled to see a message that my postings would be held for moderation because of "profanity". What a load of Scun‌thorpes...
  • NDAA

    Mr. Gewirtz failed to mention that Obama has strengthened the Patriot Act with a version of his own, The National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA which now gives our government the powers to detain American citizens indefinitely without trial. This is worse than the Patriot Act.
  • An incomplete article is a poor article

    No mention of any of the "OTHER" candidates positions - Libertarian, Green, Communist, etc - means you are perpetuating the bubble that the Republican and Democratic parties have built around the election process. If you aren't presenting *everyone's* positions, you are doing a disservice to your readers and enabling the current broken process to continue unchallenged.

    For example: I would assume that the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, would come down on the side of personal liberties and privacy in any discussion of those options "versus" anything else (security, commerce, etc).
  • Goes to show

    Can't be everything to everyone, can't please everyone,

    But Romney sure is trying. ;)

    Rob Berman