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The election’s impact on big tech

The new administration and big tech are likely to be more adversarial.


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The election’s outcome on Tuesday upturned expectations, certainly among Democrats, even most Republicans. Of course, there’s no way to know what new tech industry laws and regulations will be created by President Trump, the Republican Congress and new regulatory agency leadership.

However, we know the following—

  • Silicon Valley CEOs and major stakeholders were solidly behind Clinton, with the exception of Peter Thiel and a few others. Tech progressives failed to recognize the social and economic disquiet of the country, especially in the so-called Rust Belt. They contributed to the Democrats but were complacent about the election. Few of them got directly involved.
  • Ironically, California-based social media giants like Facebook and Twitter helped fuel the discontent—by speeding journalism’s decline with factual inaccuracy and the degraded social discourse we experience on now fragmented news sites.
  • Neither Trump nor most of the people who voted for him have benefitted from the tech boom because it hasn’t generated significant jobs in the American heartland.
  • Obama helped accommodate Silicon Valley’s agenda because he firmly believed it was the catalyst for 21st century economic and social progress. Trump, by contrast, isn’t a fan. Interestingly, he shouts out his Twitter comments to one of his aides, not posting them himself.
  • Much more significant—During his campaign, Trump promised that he would take antitrust action against Amazon and pressure Apple to manufacture its product in the U.S. Furthermore, he believes that the big West Coast tech company stakeholders constitute part of the ‘global elite’ that he so frequently railed against.
  • On data security issues, Trump seems aligned with those who want the government to have a ‘back door’ to all devices so that the phones of suspected terrorists can be unlocked. But would it or could it be stopped there?
  • Trump doesn’t support net neutrality—and is especially opposed to the idea of giving equal time to all sides of an issue. If he appoints anti-regulatory crusader Jeffrey Eisenach, it will be a sure signal that net neutrality’s days may be numbered.
  • Finally, on immigration—Tech has been responsible for a significant portion of the brain drain from foreign countries, so is opposed to Trump’s exclusionary position on the issue.

Next, I’ll discuss the direction the new administration may take on cybersecurity and privacy.

Cybersecurity

Among the industries set to benefit from the new Trump administration are oil and gas, coal, big construction (assuming the Senate approves infrastructure spending), and various manufacturing sectors (if tariffs increase and NAFTA is dismantled). –On the other hand, companies that export goods may be hit with retaliatory tariffs if the Republican Federal Government, as promised, ‘gets tougher’ on imports. And, as described in my last post, Big Tech will not be a favorite of the new administration.

Other Likely General Developments–

  • Because Trump and many Republican leaders believe climate change is a hoax, federal support of green technologies will, of course, decline if not disappear.
  • Consistent with less emphasis on the environment, Trump will likely push for NASA to devote its resources away from low-Earth orbit activities dedicated to exploring life on Earth to space exploration.
  • The new Republican federal government will likely push for corporate tax reform, with significant tax cuts. Many tech companies will welcome those changes, if not others.
  • Trump and Clinton both were opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). They differed on NAFTA and other trade deals. Will there be workable alternatives? There’s no telling.
  • Trump’s anti-immigration position probably means the end of high-skill immigration, regardless of whether American workers have the skills to fill open and emerging IT/High Tech positions or not. Will this presage a reversal of the ‘brain drain’ with an exodus of high-skilled U.S. workers?

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The future of cybersecurity, privacy and civil liberties will diverge from what it would have been under a Clinton administration. Just how different new policies in these areas will be is, of course, uncertain.

Fist, a look at cybersecurity–

Cybersecurity

During the campaign, Trump expressed doubts that the Kremlin as the guilty agent in the DNC and other hacks. However, he says he’s for vigorous protections to protect the U.S. against cyber warfare.

Regardless, in the months ahead, look for the following–

  • Expect a team of military, legal and private sector experts to spearhead an immediate review of all U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities. This will be followed by detailed, ongoing cybersecurity training for all government employees and subsequent coordination between Federal, State and local law enforcement to protect against cyber threats.
  • The new Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be tasked with supporting these efforts not only with suggestions for improving our cyberdefenses, but also developing greater offensive capabilities.

Looking further, I’ll focus on civil liberties and privacy in the coming Trump era.

Privacy/Encryption VS Government Surveillance/Civil Liberties

Internet security/encryption and concerns about surveillance/civil liberties are inextricably interlinked. A worldwide debate is now taking center stage over how to establish the right balance between these two often-conflicting requirements.

While we all want personal and national security against cyber crime and large-scale attacks on our public/private institutions and infrastructure, we at the same time want protection of our privacy and civil liberties. How this tug of war plays out in the U.S. will be an important dynamic in shaping the Trump legacy.

  • On the one hand, encryption of data is the best, most accessible method for protecting privacy. If encryption isn’t secure, an authoritarian government can easily surveil its citizens and undermine civil liberties. This concern is the crux of debates in Germany, Britain and France because of rising concern throughout Europe that right wing nationalist parties may come to power in the next election cycle with the express or unspoken goal of undermining individual liberties. However, because terrorist attacks remain an imminent threat throughout the region, it’s unlikely that cyber security measures will be diluted. –U.S. civil libertarians have raised similar concerns about the coming Trump Administration’s likely expansion of national security policies.
  • On the other hand, encrypted devices have been used repeatedly by terrorists to plan and execute crimes against humanity. Since 9/11, those concerns have been the strongest determiner of legislation. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to draw a clear line between ‘wide net security surveillance’ to protect us from attack and what constitutes an unjustified intrusion into a citizen’s right to privacy.

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Security/Encryption

Political conflicts over encryption date back to the 1990s. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, a strong Trump ally, advocates legalizing government backdoor access to encrypted devices. Silicon Valley Big Tech will vigorously oppose the likely move to pass such legislation in 2017. To date, a coalition of Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans in the House of Representatives has successfully resisted efforts to expand government surveillance.

We’ll soon know if that coalition holds when NSA’s Foreign Intelligence Security Act comes up for re-authorization next year. If surveillance is broadened, critics claim this could lead U.S. business to relocate their data offshore to avoid NSA intrusion and even discourage other countries from doing business with us.

In response to these developments, Big Tech companies and private citizens are already expanding their promotion and use of end-to-end encryption–in many different forms, including high-rated apps like Silent Phone, Telegram, Text Secure and Signal (Clinton campaign staff started using this app during the recent campaign after Russian hackers accessed DNC and the candidate’s personal files). It’s important to understand that messaging apps like these aren’t limited to texting, but include file sharing, sensitive business and government information, etc. Look for still more encryption services to come to market in the years ahead.

Civil liberties/Surveillance

Donald Trump is the self-proclaimed law and order candidate. He also railed against immigrants, Muslims and other minorities. So, will he follow through, for example, on placing some U.S., mosques under surveillance or maintaining a national database of our Muslim citizens?

We may never know the scope of the security initiatives he will launch because of the secrecy surrounding NSA activities since the Patriot Act was passed after 9-11. Many of Edward Snowden’s revelations, at first doubted, now seem on target in underscoring the staggering scope of data the NSA and other Homeland Security agencies keep on American citizens, foreign leaders and others around the world.

During the past eight years, Obama has continued to exercise his Homeland Security powers without undermining the support of the American people. However, IF Trump were to expand them to snoop on Americans not suspected of any legal wrongdoing would we know? Who, in addition, would be targeted? Members of the Press and other Media? Politicians who oppose his agenda? Would some of them be found guilty of ‘crimes’ and be imprisoned? We can only hope that such developments will never happen in this country. However, this same sequence of events has unfolded in Russia and in countries that have voted in authoritarian regimes.

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