Barack Obama: Refining Tech Policy

Citizen democracy, privacy and free speech in technology take the stage as Obama's IT platform takes shape.

On an issue where theres little disagreement between the candidates, Sen. Barack Obama moved Nov. 14 to differentiate himself from the Democratic pack with a detailed technology agenda.

While Obamas overall tech policy tracks with the plans from the other candidates-support for network neutrality, increased H-1B visas and jacked up spending and investment on math, science and technology-the Illinois Democrat uses his ambitious agenda to detail his broader view on citizen democracy, privacy and free speech.

Network neutrality, for instance, is more than a rate dispute between broadband and content providers, according to Obama. Without network neutrality rules or laws, he contends, the "quality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse" would be threatened.

At a campaign stop at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., Nov. 14, Obama said, "I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality." In his tech agenda released the same day, he added that network neutrality would "ensure that [the Internet] remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy."


To view an eWEEK slideshow on Hillary Clintons technology plan.

With the usual obligatory nod to training more Americans for high-tech jobs, Obamas tech immigration position moves beyond his fellow candidates promising more H-1B visas. Under an Obama administration, he says, all immigrants who earn their college degrees in the United States will be given a path to citizenship.

"We should examine our ability to increase the number of permanent visas we issue to foreign skilled workers," Obama states in his agenda. "We do not want to shut our doors to innovators overseas, who have traditionally made America strong."

On the Internet issues of free speech and participatory democracy, Obama steps ahead of other Democratic contenders for the White House in promoting specific ideas and proposals.

"[Obama] believes that openness of the new media world should be seen as an opportunity as much as some see it as a threat," his policy paper states. He "does not view regulation as the answer to these concerns."

Instead of the host of laws-most ultimately rejected by the courts-introduced over the last decade by both Democrats and Republicans to protect children online, Obama said parents should be provided filtering tools, including requiring content providers to offer parental controls software that not only blocks objectionable material but also prevents children from revealing personal information.

"Private entities like Common Sense Media are pursuing a sanity not censorship approach, which can serve as a model for how to use technology to empower parents without offending the First Amendment," the paper states.

Obama also proposes the creation of "Public Media 2.0" as the next generation of public media that will "create the Sesame Street of the digital age and other video and interactive programming." He said he would support funding for moving existing public broadcasting stations online to help "renew their founding visions in the digital world."

But nowhere in his tech policy agenda is Obama more impassioned on his view of 21st century technology as he is about government and the Internet.

"Together, we could open up government and invite citizens in, while connecting all of America to 21st century broadband," Obama said at his Google campaign stop. "We could use technology to help achieve universal health care, to reach for a clean energy future and to ensure that young Americans can compete-and win-in the global economy."


To read more about John Edwards technology plan, click here.

In Obamas view of his potential presidency, Americans would be able to watch a live Internet feed of all government proceedings, from agency meetings to congressional hearings. He would give people an opportunity to review and comment on White House Web site for five days before signing any non-emergency legislation.

In addition, he would create a government Web site and search engine to allow users to track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks and lobbyist contacts with government officials.

Overseeing it all would be the nations first chief technology officer. The federal CTO would have the authority to ensure government agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services to solicit and receive information from citizens. The CTO would also oversee a national, interoperable wireless network for first responders.

"This policy will enable Americans to discuss and debate more actively they key issues that affect our lives and will give citizens greater autonomy to determine where the truth lies," Obamas agenda states.


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