Election 2012: Where Obama and Romney stand on tech issues

In a presidential election dominated by concern over the state of the economy, both candidates have given tech issues a simple nod—but not much more. President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney have cited the importance of innovation for improving competitiveness and creating jobs. Both have expressed support for federally funded research, voiced opinions against the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation, and said that they would make the (currently temporary) research and development tax credit permanent. Questions about Internet policies have been conspicuously absent from the debates, however, and neither candidate's campaign site focuses on technology on its Issues pages.

Still, the two men's views on tech issues have some clear differences, stemming from their different philosophies on the role of government. The debate over net neutrality—whether the government should prohibit broadband providers from giving preferential treatment to certain sites or types of content—offers perhaps the clearest example. Obama has argued that allowing companies like Verizon to act as content gatekeepers undermines an open Internet and would create a tiered system based on ability to pay. Romney counters that such rules constitute needless regulation, which would hamper the free market and shackle growth.

Obama has offered some specifics regarding the steps he would take in his second term: increasing funding for research and development, making 500MHz of spectrum available for commercial use by 2020, and improving cybersecurity through stronger regulation.

Romney, on the other hand, has taken the position that the government's role in managing the Internet should be "almost none." Instead, he says, the nation should rely on the market, consumers, and industry to take a stand on privacy and telecommunications issues. Romney has also said that his first action upon taking office would be to impose an immediate 5 percent cut in non-security-related discretionary government spending, though it isn’t clear how adopting that measure would affect his stated commitment to “national investment in basic research and advanced technology.”

Here are the candidates' views, in their own words.

Cybersecurity

Obama: “[M]y administration has made cybersecurity a priority, including proposing legislation to strengthen our nation's digital defenses… We need to make it easier for the government to share threat information so critical-infrastructure companies are better prepared. We need to make it easier for these companies—with reasonable liability protection—to share data and information with government when they're attacked. And we need to make it easier for government, if asked, to help these companies prevent and recover from attacks...Cybersecurity standards would be developed in partnership between government and industry.”
Source: Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2012

Romney: “In the first 100 days of his administration, Romney will order full interagency reviews to develop and deliver to his desk a unified strategy to bolster America’s cyber security...The multi-faceted threat we face in cyberspace requires a much more coordinated effort by the Department of Defense, the intelligence agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Departments of Commerce and the Treasury to secure America. This effort must prevent duplication, maximize information sharing, and bind together the disparate competencies of these agencies.”
Source: White paper, October 7, 2011

Investment in research

Obama:I strongly support investments in research and development that help spur America innovation and proposed a goal that, as a country, we invest more than 3 percent of our GDP in public and private research and development—exceeding the level achieved at the height of the space race.”
Source:
Scientific American and ScienceDebate.org, September 4, 2012

Romney: “I am a strong supporter of federally funded research, and continued funding would be a top priority in my budget. The answer to spending constraints is not to cut back on crucial investments in America’s future, but rather to spend money more wisely.”
Source: Scientific American and ScienceDebate.org, September 4, 2012

Net neutrality

Obama: “I'm a big believer in net neutrality...[W]e don't want to create a bunch of gateways that prevent somebody who doesn't have a lot of money but has a good idea from being able to start their next YouTube or their next Google on the Internet.”
Source: State of the Union Q&A on YouTube, February 1, 2010

Romney: "[T]he FCC’s 'Net Neutrality' regulation represents...a 'solution' in search of a problem...The Obama Administration’s overreaching has replaced innovators and investors with Washington bureaucrats.
Source: Scientific American and ScienceDebate.org, September 4, 2012

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

Obama: “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet. Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small...We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet.”
Source: White House response to SOPA petitions, January 14, 2012

Romney: “[T]he law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive, far too threatening to freedom of speech and movement of information across the Internet. It would have a potentially depressing impact on one of the fastest-growing industries in America, which is the Internet and all those industries connected to it. At the same time, we care very deeply about intellectual content that's going across the Internet. And if we can find a way to very narrowly, through our current laws, go after those people who are pirating, particularly those from offshore, we'll do that.”
Source: South Carolina GOP debate, January 19, 2012

Government’s role in managing the Internet 

Obama: “A free and open Internet is [an] essential component of American society and of the modern economy...[I]t is essential that we take steps to strengthen our cybersecurity and ensure that we are guarding against threats to our vital information systems and critical infrastructure, all while preserving Americans' privacy, data confidentiality, and civil liberties and recognizing the civilian nature of cyberspace.”
Source: Scientific American and ScienceDebate.org, September 4, 2012

Romney: “It is not the role of any government to 'manage' the Internet. The Internet has flourished precisely because government has so far refrained from regulating this dynamic and essential cornerstone of our economy. I would rely primarily on innovation and market forces, not bureaucrats, to shape the Internet and maximize its economic, social, and scientific value. ”
Source: Scientific American and ScienceDebate.org, September 4, 2012

Manufacturing

Obama: “I want to do the same thing with manufacturing jobs not just in the auto industry, but in every industry. I don’t want those jobs taking root in places like China...I don’t want to be a pioneer of outsourcing. I want to insource. I want to stop giving tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas; let’s give those tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States of America.” 
Source: Campaign event, August 9, 2012

Romney: “We have made it less attractive for enterprises to stay here than to go offshore from time to time...Now, we're going to have to make sure that as we trade with other nations, that they play by the rules, and China hasn't...On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator, which will allow me as President to be able to put in place, if necessary, tariffs where I believe that they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers.”
Source: Second presidential debate, October 16, 2012

For a more comprehensive look at these topics, see the detailed report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) on both campaigns' positions on technology and innovation. 

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