What are Trump's technology policy plans?

Trump made it to the presidency with big plans and few details. It's not any different with technology, but here's what we know.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Donald Trump

Where does he stand on technology issues? That's a good question without a good answer.

Trump Campaign

Trump won with "big" ideas and few, if any, details. Here's what little we know about his technology policy plans.

First, Trump had little to say about technology policies. His immigration policy of mass deportations and building a wall to keep out Mexicans appealed to his rural base, but it didn't say anything to Silicon Valley.

Indeed, Silicon Valley largely supported Hillary Clinton and hates the idea of a Trump presidency. The one exception, venture capitalist, Peter Thiel, is now posed to become a member of Trumps's inner circle.

Trump hates the one employment policy that does matter to tech companies: H-1B visas. These are often used to bring engineers and scientists into the US. Trump attacked H-1Bs during the campaign. He called guest workers cheap substitutes for American labor. At the same time, he wants to "select immigrants based on their likelihood of success in the US. and their ability to be financially self-sufficient," while turning "off the jobs and benefits magnet".

Bottom line, if your business depends on tech employees from outside the country, start looking for employees born in the US.

See: In case of cyberattack, don't count on Donald Trump knowing what to do | So how much would Donald Trump's all-American iPhone really cost? | Wildly inaccurate election forecasts highlight Big Data challenges

Of course, finding those employees won't be easy. Twenty percent of all US jobs require knowledge in at least one STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) field. But America isn't producing enough workers to keep up with the demand.

Trump doesn't believe it: "We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H1B program." I have been to numerous technology conferences this year. At every single one, every last company was looking for staffers.

On a higher level, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, notes that the US has been lagging behind other countries in both pure and pragmatic technology research. "In fact, federal funding for R&D as a share of GDP in 2016 will be the lowest it has been since the Russians launched Sputnik, almost 50 years ago."

On the subject of space exploration, he has no plans for NASA. Trump also has no position on promoting US federal research. He also has no policies on technology transfer, start-up and small business support, or patent reform.

As for taxes, Trump plans to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent. He has, of course, many other tax changes in mind, He claims that these changes will create 25 million more jobs. How he can reconcile this with the Republican promise of a balanced federal budget remains an open question.

Trump also wants all online retailers to collect sales tax. How this would be done remains an unanswered question.

Trump in his 100-Day Action Plan to Make America Great Again is going to be radically changing our international trade agreements. These include withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and declaring China a currency manipulator. What will all this mean?

If your company, Apple, for example, relies on Chinese manufacturing or sales, you could be in a world of hurt. A trade-war with China is a real possibility.

In a campaign speech, Trump made this explicit when he said, "I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs." This, in turn, would raise the prices of not just Apple products but those from Chinese-based companies such as Lenovo, Huawei, and Xiaomi.

How much? Trump said during the campaign he would slap a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods and a 35 percent tax on Mexican imports. Those countries, in return, would retaliate with their own tariffs. This could bring international trade to a grinding halt.

In connection with Chinese manufacturing, Trump attacked Apple several times during his campaign. "We're going to get Apple to build their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries," Trump said in speech. A completely American-made iPhone would cost about $100 more.

As for the internet, Trump opposes the FCC's Open Internet Order. Curiously, he dislikes it on the grounds that he seems to think it represents a top-down power grab that's anti-net neutrality. The truth is that this ruling, which regulates Internet Service Providers as utilities, is pro-net neutrality.

Trump, however, is not the most technically adept person on the planet. His cybersecurity policies are weak and "dangerously vague". His 10-year old son knows computers; Trump, not so much.

He, or his organization, also doesn't know much about email. His company runs on horribly insecure email servers.

Of course, as the email shenanigans of Clinton, the Bushes, indeed every president back to and including Reagan has played games with email. Knowing your way around email is not a job skill required in the Oval Office even if it is everywhere else.

It's safe to presume that since Trump presents himself as a law-and-order and homeland security president, he'll be in favor in weakening encryption and invading privacy. For example, he was all in favor of the court order calling for Apple to facilitate access to the San Bernardino shooter's encrypted iPhone.

That said, we honestly don't know his internet privacy and security positions. He barely touched on the issues during the campaign. Privacy and cyber-security aren't mentioned at all on his website's positions pages.

What it comes down to is we've elected a pig in a poke. We really have very little idea what he'll do. The only thing it's safe to predict is there will be economic trade disruptions that will impact technology imports and exports. Other than that, we're just going to have wait and see.

Related Stories:

Editorial standards