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.


Tech Theme #3: Privacy

Privacy comes up again and again in legislation. The SOPA legislation was narrowly defeated. Both candidates came out against it -- belatedly -- once they found out that pretty much the entire Internet wanted the bill killed.

Neither party has gone out of its way to protect online privacy, both have regularly fielded bills that assault it, and both can be counted on to continue to do so as long as there are lobbyists.

Interestingly "privacy" comes up more than 22,000 times in a Google search of the Mitt Romney official site, and more than 238,000 times on the Obama site. This shouldn't be attributed to more support on Obama's side. Once you hit numbers of this scale, what you're really looking at is simply the size of the sites. Obama's site, with more user participation, has more results.

Further exploration of the Obama site shows that is, essentially, a special-purpose social network, where many individuals can host their own blogs and make posts. This increases search results considerably and might have been pretty smart SEO on the part of the Obama Web developers.

In any case, it's virtually impossible to find network privacy statements (other than the normal Web site privacy policies) for either candidate on their Web site.

However, according to Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the Obama-Biden campaign supports the consumer bill of rights, encourages adoption of Do Not Track legislation (which hopefully won't be corrupted as Ed Bott has reported), and develop industry codes of conduct for online privacy (which, in my opinion, means absolutely nothing).

By contrast, ITIF reports that the Republican party platform wants to guarantee that online data gets "full Constitutional protection".

Both parties have supported the RIAA and regressive bills that benefit over-reaching content owners. I give both candidates a C- on privacy. Neither party has gone out of its way to protect online privacy, both have regularly fielded bills that assault it, and both can be counted on to continue to do so as long as there are lobbyists.

Tech Theme #4: The future of the Patriot Act

Our own Zack Whittaker has written extensively about the Patriot Act. If you haven't read his stuff, you should. It's exceptional journalism. Do be aware that Zack is from England, so he has a British perspective about USA PATRIOT and how our legislation impacts Europeans.

But what about our candidates? In 2011, President Obama extended key provisions of USA PATRIOT for another four years, so he clearly supports it to some degree.

The term "patriot act" does not exist -- at all -- on the Mitt Romney Web site. There is no description or explanation whatsoever of Romney's policies with regard to extending PATRIOT into the future. Patriot Act is mentioned 145 times on the Barack Obama site, but not officially. The mentions are social posts.

Zack and I did a webcast (which, sadly, doesn't appear to be online anymore) where we discussed our two perspectives. I believe that we need certain counterterrorist protections, and while the Patriot Act is terribly flawed, it (or something like it) is needed. Zack disagreed, mostly because those outside the U.S. are finding themselves impacted by a law that's not of their jurisdiction.

I believe PATRIOT needs to be repealed and safeguards that don't sacrifice Constitutional protections need to be put in its place.

I give both candidates a failing grade, Obama for renewing USA PATRIOT for another four years and Romney for ignoring it completely.

Tech Theme #5: IT infrastructure

The U.S. government is one of the world's largest technology consumers, and also one of the world's largest data creators and consumers. As such, how we manage our IT infrastructure is important, both from a national governance perspective as well as how it fuels the IT industry as a whole.

In addition, with the passage of what both parties now call Obamacare, electronic health records and medical IT is becoming a very big thing.

One area that Romney has been clear about is his desire to repeal Obamacare. Now, to be fair, I have my doubts whether he'd be able to pull it off, because if he becomes President, he'd also have to contend with this little thing we all politely call "Congress". Even so, I think the writing is on the wall about electronic medical records and whether or not Obamacare continues in its current form, EHR is here to stay.

But what about the rest of the U.S. government's IT infrastructure? The only mention of "cloud computing" on the Romney site is for a job posting, to work on the Romney site. No mention is found of "data center" or "datacenter".

The Obama administration has a relatively good track record here, consolidating data centers, encouraging adoption of the public cloud where possible, and creating large public data sets.

When it comes to IT infrastructure, we can give Obama a B and Romney an "I" (for incomplete, because we just don't know).

Bottom line

The bottom line is I'm deeply disappointed with both candidates when it comes to tech issues. 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. These campaigns have relied on the Internet more than any others in history.

And yet, IT seems to be a far lower priority in the minds of the candidates than it should be. Either that, or they just don't think a discussion of IT would play in Peoria. Either way, we're getting short shrift for a very important topic.

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.

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  • 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