In the last few days before November 4, taxes and the economy have become the most pressing topics of the 2008 presidential campaign.
But knowing where the candidates stand on high-tech topics like digital copyright, surveillance, and Internet regulation can be revealing, which is why we've put together this 2008 Technology Voters' Guide.
Included are answers to questions we asked presidential candidates. We received replies from Republican Sen. John McCain, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, and independent candidate Ralph Nader.
Read on for responses from Barack Obama, or check out the rest of CNET News' election coverage.
Editors' note: This survey was first published by CNET News in January.
Q: Politicians have been talking for years about the need for high-speed Internet access. Should this be accomplished primarily through deregulation and market forces, or should the federal government give out grants or subsidies, or enact new laws?
Obama: I believe that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and I will do likewise for broadband Internet access. Full broadband penetration can enrich democratic discourse, enhance competition, provide economic growth, and bring significant consumer benefits.
Moreover, improving our infrastructure will foster competitive markets for Internet access and services that ride on that infrastructure. Market forces will drive the deployment of broadband in many parts of the country, but not all. To get true broadband deployed in every community in America, we need to reform the Universal Service Fund, make better use of the nation's wireless spectrum, promote next-generation facilities, technologies, and applications, and provide new tax and loan incentives.
Congress has considered Net neutrality legislation, but it never became law. Do you still support the legislation that was re-introduced in 2007 (S 215), which gives the FCC the power to punish "discriminatory" conduct by broadband providers?
Obama: Yes. As I stated during my visit to Google on November 14, I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality. The Internet is the most open network in history. We have to keep it that way.
I will prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet. Because most Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against Web sites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment.
This could create a two-tier Internet in which Web sites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers, while all competing Web sites remain in a slower lane.
Such a result would threaten innovation, the open tradition and architecture of the Internet, and competition among content and backbone providers. It would also threaten the equality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse.
Accordingly, network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some Web sites and Internet applications over others. This principle will ensure that the new competitors, especially small or nonprofit speakers, have the same opportunity as incumbents to innovate on the Internet and to reach large audiences.
I will protect the Internet's traditional openness to innovation and creativity, and ensure that it remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy.
Telecommunications companies such as AT&T have been accused in court of opening their networks to the government in violation of federal privacy law. Do you support
giving them retroactive immunity for any illicit cooperation with intelligence agencies or law enforcement, which was proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee this fall (S 2248)?
Digital Millennium Copyright Act's section restricting the "circumvention" of copy protection measures is supported by many copyright holders but has been criticized by some technologists as hindering innovation. Would you support changing the DMCA to permit Americans to make a single backup copy of a DVD, Blu-ray Disc DVD, HD DVD, or video game disc they have legally purchased?
Obama: I would support, in concept, allowing Americans to make a single backup copy of a digital product they have purchased. And I think the market is moving in the direction of greater consumer freedom.
As policymakers, we are in a constant process of examining our laws to ensure that the protections we place on intellectual property are sufficient to encourage invention without hindering innovation that builds on previous work or unfairly limiting consumers from using the goods they purchase in a way that is fair to creators.
The Department of Homeland Security has
proposed extensive Real ID requirements restricting which state ID cards can be accepted at federal buildings and airports. Do you support those regulations as written, would you want to repeal Real ID, or would you prefer something in between?
Obama: I do not support the Real ID program because it is an unfunded mandate, and not enough work has been done with the states to help them implement the program.
The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing the proposed merger of Google and DoubleClick. Some members of Congress have raised privacy concerns, while others have said the deal should proceed. What are your views? (Editors' note: We posed this question before the FTC gave the merger unconditional approval on December 20.)
Congress has debated the right approach to privacy protection for years. I will work with leading legislators, privacy advocates, and business leaders to strengthen both voluntary and legally required privacy protections.
Recently, there's been a lot of talk about sex offenders using social-networking sites. What, if any, new federal laws are needed in this area?
Obama: What is needed is greater resources for law enforcement to fully enforce the law against sex offenders, greater education to empower kids and teens to recognize the threat and guard themselves against the threat, and parents who are engaged in their kids' lives.
Social-networking sites are just one way sex offenders seek out victims, and I would not support targeting them specifically, but I would be open to any legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to bring sex offenders to justice.
The Bush administration has supported legally requiring Internet service providers, and perhaps search engines and social-networking Web sites as well, to keep logs on who their users are and what they do. Do you support federal legislation, such as HR 837, to mandate data retention?
Do you support enacting federal laws providing for any or all of the following: a) a permanent research-and-development tax credit, b) a permanent moratorium on Internet access taxes, and c) an increase in the current limits on H-1B visas?
Obama: a) Yes.
c) Highly skilled immigrants have contributed significantly to our domestic technology industry. But we have a skills shortage, not a worker shortage. There are plenty of Americans who could be filling tech jobs, given the proper training. I am committed to investing in communities and people who have not had an opportunity to work and participate in the Internet economy as anything other than consumers.
Most H-1B new arrivals, for example, have earned a bachelor's degree or its equivalent abroad (42.5 percent). They are not all Ph.D.s. We can and should produce more Americans with bachelor's degrees that lead to jobs in technology.
A report of the National Science Foundation reveals that blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans as a whole comprise more that 25 percent of the population but earn, as a whole, 16 percent of the bachelor degrees, 11 percent of the master's degrees, and 5 percent of the doctorate degrees in science and engineering.
We can do better than that and go a long way toward meeting industry's need for skilled workers with Americans. Until we have achieved that, I will support a temporary increase in the H-1B visa program as a stopgap measure until we can reform our immigration system comprehensively.
I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes improvement in our visa programs, including our legal permanent-resident visa programs and temporary programs including the H-1B program, to attract some of the world's most talented people to America.
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