By Tod Newcombe | Features Editor
Both Al Gore and George W. Bush are strongly in favor of technology, electronic government and the Internet. But what happens when one of them becomes president?
Presidential candidates Albert Gore and George W. Bush have put tremendous effort into explaining how their views differ from each other when it comes to lightening rod issues, such as abortion, gun control, taxes and Social Security. But mention the Internet and technology, and you would have to be a seasoned political pro to differentiate between the views of these two candidates.
When Gore and Bush start talking about the digital divide, Internet taxation, privacy, and electronic government, they start sounding the same, according to IT experts who are following the campaign. "Both candidates are close together on IT issues and its hard to differentiate between them," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "Thats good news for the IT industry. Compare that to other industries, such as gun
manufacturers, where if one candidate wins, they are at a clear advantage and if the other candidate wins, they are at a disadvantage."
Theres a very good reason both candidates are singing off the same song sheet when it comes to the Internet and technology. It gives them the kind of integrity they need to be viewed as leaders with sound economic sense. "Having credibility on economic issues in this election now requires you to be both IT-savvy and IT-friendly," explained Rob Atkinson, director of the new economy project at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group. "I think one of the things that gave Clinton an enormous amount of credibility in 1992 was when Silicon Valley executives came out and endorsed him as opposed to [former president] Bush."
Knowing that, both candidates have taken the time to issue position papers on technology and electronic government. "Both candidates have articulated a vision of e-government," added Harris. "But I dont think both candidates have drilled down into the details of how you do it. The real test for whoever is elected is converting their promises into reality."
With global information and communications technology spending expected to hit $3 trillion in 2003 (World Information Technology & Services Alliance), electronic commerce activity in the U.S. already worth $300 billion annually and growing (Forrester Research) and e-government
spending in the federal, state and local sectors forecast to reach $6.2 billion by 2005 (Gartner Group), presidential candidates know that during an election year, embracing IT is as important as the flag, mom and apple pie.
Yet, its possible that some issues relating to IT and the Internet may flare up as the election goes down to the wire. At the top of the list of potential issues is privacy. Both candidates are fairly close on this one, though Gore advocates an "electronic bill of rights" to protect consumer privacy, while Bush favors letting the market self-regulate itself before the government should step in.
Another potentially hot issue is, surprisingly, electronic or digital government. "Its not a big, big issue," observed Atkinson, "but both candidates have made policy addresses on this topic in recent months."
Bush has called for using the Internet to save federal dollars through online auctions and other types of business-to-business transactions. He has also advocated appointing a government-wide chief information officer and creating a $100 million fund to support interagency e-government initiatives.
Gore has said that he would measure the performance of e-government regularly and rigorously, by putting progress reports on government performance online and by making them interactive, so that citizens can respond on specific issues. The Vice President also advocates using online procurement technologies to save "tens of billions of dollars" and to invest those savings in "even greater efficiency, more innovation and better services."
Will digital government capture the kind of voter attention that abortion, gun control, tax cuts and Social Security reform is likely to attract? Probably not, but given the rather low esteem most voters have of government, any attempt by either candidate to show the public sector is moving in the direction of the private sector -- in terms of customer service, reliability and ease of use -- cant hurt.
That leaves the digital divide as the next potential Internet campaign issue. Again, both candidates are not too far apart here. Gore pledges to make Internet access as common as telephone access. He also would finish wiring classrooms and libraries, and provide tax incentives for
technology training and government bonds for wiring communities.
Bush has proposed creating a $3 billion fund to integrate technology in schools and libraries and $400 million in new money to help ensure that technology is boosting student achievement. He also has said he will invest $400 million to create and maintain more than 2,000 community technology centers, which will provide such services as free Internet
access, computer literacy training and professional skills development.
As for Internet taxation, most experts see this as the issue least likely to arise during the campaign. Bush is in favor of continuing the Internet tax moratorium. Gore backed the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which Clinton supported, and he is in favor of making the Internet a
"duty-free" zone. More importantly, however, Internet taxation is a problem that Congress, not the president, has to resolve, one of just many relating to the Internet.
If their stands on the issues are too similar to differentiate between the two, then perhaps a review of Gore and Bushs records will show who is the real IT candidate. Gore, who received much ridicule for his claim that he helped start the Internet, puts forth a record of IT support and promotion that goes back to his days as a senator.
A five-page paper issued by the Gore 2000 Campaign lists numerous highlights in the candidates career where he backed legislation friendly to technology or sponsored efforts to help research, education and industry through technology. As vice president, Gore lays claim to fighting for and speaking out on behalf of numerous high-tech related endeavors, ranging from wiring classrooms with the Internet and increasing high-tech trade with Asian nations to promoting the growth of electronic commerce and advocating V-chip technology.
Bush, on the other hand, points to his record as Texas governor. While the list is shorter than Gores, the governor does cite several substantive and not so substantive achievements, including his backing of lower Internet access taxes, sponsorship of a group to determine
e-government opportunities in the state, help in creating the second largest government-operated telecommunications network in the nation and the fact that Texas led the nation in high-tech job growth during his term as governor.
In the area of e-government, Gov. Bush comes out looking progressive, thanks to the states high ranking in a recent survey of digital readiness among states, conducted by the Center for Digital Government, a research organization affiliated with Government Technologys parent firm e.Republic. Texas ranked tenth overall for its use of online information, transactions and services in such operations as electronic commerce, taxation, law enforcement, social services, administration and education.
Despite his more limited experience in the area of government and technology, as a presidential candidate, Bushs repeated stands on substantive issues affecting the Internet, such as taxation and encryption, have given him high marks from Internet advocates, according to William C. Myers, chief information officer for the U.S. Internet Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit Internet policy association based in Washington, D.C.
"From a dispassionate standpoint, it is fair to say that the position of the forces that built the Internet would be more comfortable with Gov. Bush than with Al Gore," said Myers. "But it is not a landslide." The reason why, adds Myers, is that Gore tends to be second when it comes to taking stands on certain issues. "But either candidate represents a win for the Net. I happen to think that Gov. Bush represents a bigger win."
If it doesnt really matter to the IT industry and Internet advocates which candidate becomes president, then the next question has to be about the tech-related issues the future administration is likely to face. Most experts agree that whoever becomes the next president will preside over some major and probably contentious issues affecting technology and the Internet. While many of the big issues ultimately will be decided in Congress, the president can frame the issues in certain ways by using the White House as a bully pulpit. The next president also is likely to appoint one or more new justices to the Supreme Court, where some tech-related issues may ultimately end up being settled.
Number one on everybodys list is privacy, of course. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that 2001 is going to be the privacy year," predicted Myers. "Its going to occur at every level of government."
The issues involve not just cookies and consumer protection, but also health privacy, wireless privacy (the ability to detect the location of a wireless Internet user), as well as Fourth Amendment rights that have
been stirred up recently by the Federal Bureau of Investigations use of Carnivore, a software tool that can tap online messages. But how these issues are framed is going to depend on who controls the different branches of government, added Myers.
Making e-government pervasive in the federal sector will be another priority of the next administration, believes ITAAs Miller. "By the end of the term of the next administration, we should no longer be debating how much or how fast e-government occurs. It should be part of everyday life." Atkinson agreed. "I would argue that Gore has a
stronger commitment than Bush to reinventing government with technology, but either way, digital government is going to happen in the next four years in a very serious way."
The third high-tech issue the next administration will face is one of jurisdiction. Myers believes that problems concerning state preemption may erupt if Congress doesnt move on certain privacy matters, leaving the door open for states to enact their own privacy laws. Once Congress does act, then it must decide whether to preempt the states.
More importantly, according to Myers and others, are the global jurisdictional issues. "The next presidents challenge will be dealing with a lot of these domestic issues in a global context," Miller pointed out. Around the world, but in Europe especially, other countries have different views on governments role when it comes to
Internet privacy and taxation.
Miller would like to see that when it comes to the Internet and electronic commerce, the next president clearly articulates that the market, not government, should lead. "He should do everything possible to remove trade barriers, to keep new barriers from going up, or from
limits being placed on global electronic commerce. This is a global medium, yet we still have nation-states," observed Miller.
Information security on a global scale could be another contentious issue for the next administration. Cybercrime and malicious software viruses can be launched from anywhere in the world, wreaking havoc on the worlds information network.
Altogether, these issues are certainly going to crop up at some point in the next four years. While both candidates have talked the talk, when it comes to technology and the Internet, it remains to be seen which has the fortitude to walk through this potential minefield of IT issues.