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Obama Squeezes a (Very) Little Tech into State of the Union

The president primarily touted middle-class economics and called for parties to cooperate in this year's addressing, making mere mentions of technology plans and proposals.

President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address on Jan. 20, focusing on big issues and current events, and placing particular emphasis on what the president calls “middle-class economics” -- programs that aim to give working-class families a chance at success.

Some mentions of technology, education and healthcare were sandwiched between supporting the troops, explanations of foreign policy, a call for “better politics,” and an appeal to common decency between Democrats and Republicans.

The evening marked the announcement of a new initiative called the Precision Medicine Initiative, which will aim to cure diseases like cancer and diabetes. Precision medicine, also known as personalized medicine, is a field of research that uses knowledge of the human genome to engineer more effective and precise medications.

Obama referenced the importance of education, but dedicated little of his hour-long speech to the topic. The president did mention, though, that he would push Congress to adopt a policy in which community college would be available free of charge to all Americans.

Dipping his toe briefly into the topic of technology, the president called for continued innovation, whether it’s to build new body prosthesis here on Earth or to continue pushing into the solar system, “not just to visit, but to stay.”

Economics was the president’s main focus, and among his proposals was a call to close “tax loopholes” that encourage companies to invest abroad. “Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home,” Obama said, and also called for a bi-partisan infrastructure bill that would create new jobs and the infrastructure the nation needs to thrive.

The president also touched on cybersecurity. "No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids," he said. "We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism."

Obama then called for Congress to pass legislation that would protect the nation’s infrastructure against cyber attacks and identity theft, legislation that the president has attempted to push through Congress several times without success. 

Perhaps this is one area where Democrats and Republicans can come together:

I'd like to see Obama and Republicans try to do deal on cybersecurity. Seems like a fertile area for some agreement #SOTU — Aaron M. Renn (@urbanophile) January 21, 2015
But not all agree that the president's plan is a good one:

President Obama is dead wrong on his stance on cyber security. Broadening the scope of the CFAA is not the right move. #SOTU #CFAASucks — Brian Whaley (@WhaleysBrain) January 21, 2015
The president also said that as Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, "which is why I've ... worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained."

In the same vein, Obama noted that Americans cherish civil liberties, and emphasized that government must uphold that commitment to gain maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in the fight against terrorist networks.

"So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven't," he said. "As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse."

#Cybersecurity doesn’t have to mean sacrificing privacy. Let's start with surveillance reform. #SOTU — ACLU Live (@ACLULive) January 21, 2015
To this end, the federal government will issue a report in February on how it's keeping its promise to keep the U.S. safe while also strengthening privacy.

Perhaps the most talked about topic of this year's State of the Union address was broadband, given his Jan. 14 trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to encourage high-speed Internet connectivity expansion through federal grants and loans for Internet service providers.

But Obama mentioned the Internet just three times during his speech, including a stand to protect a free and open Internet, and to “extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.”

Still, it's something many support, as shown by those who took to Twitter during the address. Though the comments were few, the ones out there were positive:

"Extend its reach.. to every community" means #BetterBroadband. Get rid of legal barriers to muni broadband! #sotu — NLC (@leagueofcities) January 21, 2015
Investing in #betterbroadband is investing in a strong healthy, educated rural workforce #SOTU — Dept. of Agriculture (@USDA) January 21, 2015
On the whole, Obama said, his only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one he's had since the day he was sworn in: "to do what I believe is best for America."

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.