Obama is the candidate for technology

posted 23 April 2008, updated 25 April 2008

I wrote a while back about Obama being the candidate who understands the Internet and I've been meaning since then to go into more detail about the actual policies that he has that I like. It was my intention to compare these policies with Hillary's, but her site doesn't address the issue of technology at all. The closest she gets is talking about science policy, which mentions broadband once.

Understand that this is not just some silly "gotcha" that her website doesn't address these issues. Her website is very comprehensive, and an absence of a policy issue belies a lack of focus on that issue. And technology is not just my pet issue. Technology, specifically information technology, has shifted in the last decade from being an industry of its own to being part of the structure of every industry. Policy made affecting information technology, and specifically the government's use of IT, will have profound and widespread effects on the economy and society. A lack of recognition of that fact is a serious problem for a candidate who in all likelihood will be president through 2016.

So here are the bits of Obama's technology policies that I think are especially important. See the full page if you want even more details (it's huge!):

Network neutrality
The question of whether Internet service providers should be able to regulate the flow of traffic through their systems is a controversial one that I could talk about for a while. On the one hand, a certain amount of inspection of traffic allows optimization and prioritization that improves the experience for everyone. But on the other hand, as the recent debacle of Comcast blocking bittorrent traffic has shown, there is a difference between optimization and censorship. As the Obama campaign points out, most areas are served by only one or two ISPs, and this monopoly or near-monopoly situation means that consumers have to have their interests protected. There will be a lot of back-and-forth about how far network neutrality has to go, but as a general principle, it is best to err towards the side of greater openness.
Privacy laws
The increasing use of databases by the government opens up massive possibilities for the theft or misuse of that data, either through maliciousness or merely incompetence, such as the Oklahoma department of corrections, which recently accidentally exposed sensitive personal data about sex offenders and department employees. Obama supports controlling access to this data, and more importantly mandating safeguards that track how this data has actually been used (something the UK government could take a lesson from). He also wants to address the protection of e-health and location data that don't easily fall into a single industry's laws.
Open government
The extent to which Obama wants to take open government is really breathtaking. Some headliners, but by no means the full picture:
  • Universally accessible formats and standards for government data
  • Recording, archiving and broadcasting live on the Internet the proceedings of all Executive Branch departments and rulemaking agencies. This sounds like a gimmick, but my experience of exposing this kind of volume of data is that the effects could be tranformational. Every poor decision, every uninformed comment, in every meeting of government would be available for obsessive bloggers and policy wonks to pore over. And if there is one thing that the Internet has taught us, it is that there is nothing so boring that somebody won't be interested in it.
  • A government-maintained search engine for all federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contracts
A national CTO
The government is the largest corporation, and yet the government lacks a CTO, a position every other major corporation has had for over a decade. Unsurprisingly, government IT is notorious for being inefficient, out of date, over-budget, and generally bungled. The CTO's job will be to make sure that government is using the best IT available, using it properly, and using it in a co-ordinated way so that departments can effectively cooperate.
Technology as an economic driver
Obama really gets this. Here's a quote direct from his policy page:
In the 21st century, our economic success will depend not only on economic analysis but also on technological sophistication and direct experience in this powerful engine of our economy. In an Obama administration, the government’s economic policy-making organizations and councils will include individuals with backgrounds in our technology industry.

So to reiterate: Obama should be every geek's candidate of choice, but not just geeks. Anyone who recognizes the primacy that technology has already taken in our economy and culture should realise that it is time it entered our politics as well, and Obama is the candidate to do that.