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Obama Vs. Romney: 6 Tech Policy Differences

With the 2012 election drawing near, InformationWeek Government compares the tech plans of President Obama and the Democrats and those of Governor Romney and the Republicans.
As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney head into the home stretch of the Presidential election, how do their technology policies compare? U.S. innovation has been a cornerstone for both campaigns, but the candidates have sharp differences on issues from cybersecurity to Internet regulation.

President Obama has earned a reputation as a tech enthusiast, with his White House-issued Blackberry and photos showing him using an iPad. For his part, Mitt Romney's team developed a smartphone app called "Mitt's VP" to announce Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate. Both candidates use Twitter and other social media, and both candidates' campaigns rely heavily on data mining to help find and convert voters.

Obama and Romney have spoken about technology on the stump and discussed technology policy on their campaign Websites, and the candidates' respective parties have detailed their tech policy strategies in party platforms. And these positions have been dissected by groups like the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

[ Follow the debates on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites. Read more at Social Media Guide To The Presidential Debates. ]

The candidates' stances on tech policy cut across a range of major social and economic issues, including education, immigration, trade, and innovation. Let's look at how the candidates compare on six tech policy issues.


Obama: Democratic proposals include doubling certain science education funding and preparation of at least 10,000 math and science teachers over the next decade. As part of the President's Educate to Innovate campaign, Obama held the first-ever White House Science Fair, declared a National Lab Day, and created a public-private partnership with private-sector CEOs to improve science education nationwide. Obama also created an interagency effort to coordinate the federal government's disparate science, technology, engineering, and math ("STEM") education initiatives.

Romney: Romney has called the current state of American education "sorry" and an "epic failure." While serving as Massachusetts governor, he created scholarships for high-scoring math students and added a requirement that students pass a science exam to graduate high school. However, while the Republican platform and Romney's plan advocate STEM education, they have not been specific about what they would do to encourage it.


Obama: The Democratic platform calls cyber threats "one of the most serious national security, public safety, and economic challenges" faced by the nation. In order to combat the threat, the Democrats are calling for increased research and development, promotion of cybersecurity awareness, and strengthening public-private and international partnerships. The Obama administration has made cybersecurity a major priority by creating U.S. Cyber Command and strengthening the Department of Homeland Security's cyber efforts. Democrats have been supportive of legislation that would require some businesses to take specific steps to ensure their IT system security. After legislation failed earlier this year, the Obama administration began preparing a Presidential directive on cybersecurity, which is forthcoming. The Democrats also support the Internet Privacy Bill of Rights and a Do Not Track option.

Romney: The Republican platform slams the Obama administration for being "overly reliant on defensive capabilities" rather than engaging in "active" defense. Republicans call for upgrades of the Federal Information Security Management Act to better protect government systems and stronger information sharing between government and industry, but for voluntary rather than mandatory steps by private industry to improve their system security. Republicans say that they will ensure the protection of personal data from "government overreach" and will let individuals decide how third parties can use that data.


Obama: Democrats want broadband to be "robust" and support freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for commercial use. In general, Democrats have supported network neutrality--the idea that Internet service providers should not be able to restrict access to their networks--and support net neutrality limitations on spectrum auctions and allocation. Obama opposes changes to the current multi-lateral, public-private approach to Internet governance.

Romney: Romney and the Republicans want to scale back the government's role in managing telecommunications, but also want to accelerate the rollout of broadband nationwide, claiming that Obama's efforts to do so have failed. The Republican platform calls for movement toward a spectrum auction and for public-private partnerships to provide better broadband connection to rural communities. Both Romney and the Republican Party oppose net neutrality, calling it a "solution in search of a problem." Romney has said that it's not the role of government or the United Nations to "manage" the Internet, and that such governance should be left up to non-government stakeholders. However, the Republican platform explicitly comes out for enforcement of laws against pornography online and for strengthening of laws against online gambling.


Obama: Democrats want to allow foreigners who earn degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics at American universities to remain in the United States after graduation. As part of the Obama administration's Startup America Initiative, the Department of Homeland Security has worked to attract foreign-born entrepreneurs to create startup companies in the United States. However, both Obama's campaign website and the Democratic platform are silent on the issue of H-1B visas.

Romney: Like the Democrats, Romney has called for conferring legal residency on foreigners who graduate with STEM degrees, but Romney would limit such status to those who earn advanced degrees. The Republicans would also increase the number of H-1B visas awarded.


Obama: Democrats propose to make the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit permanent to provide tax relief for American R&D efforts. Democrats and President Obama have worked to increase federal spending on basic research and aim to help facilitate the expenditure nationwide of 3% of the GDP on R&D. The Democratic platform also calls for the use of policy to encourage IT upgrades in the healthcare and education sectors. Finally, Obama's Startup America Initiative and Startup America Legislative Agenda aimed to drive entrepreneurship with tax relief and new ways for startups to access capital.

Romney: Republicans have also called for extension of research and development tax credits and spending on basic science research, but have called for a decrease in discretionary spending, which could cut the federal research and development budget. Romney has repeatedly said that government should not be in the business of attempting to pick winners and losers, and in the first Presidential debate he slammed Obama for some of the investments the Obama administration made in areas like clean energy.


Obama: In terms of trade, the Democrats call for improved intellectual property enforcement. Obama supports laws to combat online piracy as long as they protect civil liberties. The Obama administration streamlined technology processes at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as part of an effort to reduce a patent application backlog, and supported passage of comprehensive patent reform.

Romney: Romney and the Republicans have proposed a tough line against China on intellectual property issues, saying that the Obama administration has "virtually surrendered" to numerous Chinese trade violations. Several years ago, Romney called for the creation of a new body like the World Trade Organization that would have high intellectual property protection requirements for membership.

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