Even now, cybersecurity is not a “tent-pole” campaign issue. It only seems to come up when some new disaster happens and the argument is thrust upon us once again. But with November drawing ever closer, Americans everywhere are wondering if this will be the year our government finally gets proactive about cybersecurity.
The trouble is, neither of the two major parties’ candidates seem particularly interested in having a real, productive conversation about the challenges we now face. Instead, both Trump and Clinton seem to prefer to speak in generalities and tilt at straw men.
Below is a look at their positions on the most important aspect of tech policy in the year 2016.
Trump on Cybersecurity
This should be easy — Trump’s position on cybersecurity is about as substantive as his position on anything else: Pretend it doesn’t exist, and/or make vague promises about greatness, and/or blame the Chinese. For cybersecurity (as with climate change), he’s going with the Chinese.
Trump seems to think cybersecurity begins and ends with alleged Chinese intellectual property violations. According to his official campaign website: “China’s cyber lawlessness threatens our prosperity, privacy and national security.”
Even more nonsense ensued when he sat for a New York Times interview back in March: “We’re so obsolete in cyber.” Whatever that means. He continued: “We move forward with cyber, but other countries are moving forward at a much faster pace.” And, finally: “You can make countries nonfunctioning with a strong use of cyber,” he said.
Drawing on both his third grade vocabulary and his barely-there understanding of the terms he’s using, Trump comes across as both paranoid and naïve — a heady concoction in somebody who wants us to believe he’s ready to sit in the Oval Office. The whole thing is almost as ridiculous as Ben Carson fear-mongering from the debate stage about EMP-based weapons — a thing that, as of this writing, exists only in Hollywood blockbusters.
But when has accuracy ever gotten in the way of a good, old-fashioned, Republican-brand® appeal to blind emotion?
It’s true that both China and Russia were allegedly behind some high-profile data breaches that (again, allegedly) captured some sensitive information on US government contractors. In China’s case, such accusations have actually been headline fodder for years now.
But you know what? Multiple reports suggest that the United States might be the most hack-happy country of them all. In fact, it would be borderline ridiculous to believe we’re not engaged in the very same practices we regularly accuse China of. Like nine-year-olds who just discovered the comments section on YouTube, world superpowers are only now discovering what’s possible in the new Wild West of cyberspace. We get to do behind closed doors what used to require spies and double agents and dead drops.
Short version: Trump’s scapegoating of China misses the bigger picture.
Clinton on Cybersecurity
As a progressive-minded person, I know I’m supposed to shut up and stop criticizing the former Secretary now that she’s earned Bernie Sanders’ grudging endorsement. But you know what? We’re here to speak the truth — so I’m not going to do that.
Clinton is, if anything, even more terrifying than Trump when it comes to cybersecurity.
In the early days of her still-in-progress email server scandal, Clinton was asked if she’d “wiped” her personal server of classified material. Her answer: “Like with a cloth or something?” That response is either unforgivably flippant or unforgivably ignorant, and neither is a great quality in a President — especially a President who will have more say in tech policy than any that came before.
Short version: Clinton is not the person I want overseeing the handling of state secrets.
But her scandals are one thing — what about her actual cybersecurity proposals? Good thing she’s on record about that, too.
During one of the 900 Democratic debates that transpired this cycle, she and Sanders were asked about what approach their respective administrations would take to handle the emerging concern about cybersecurity. Her response was that she envisioned a “Manhattan-like project” to develop new cybersecurity countermeasures.
Remember: This is the woman who maintained a personal email server in her own home to circumvent Freedom of Information Act requests and to handpick which correspondence became a part of the public record and which did not. Like Edward Snowden, the thought of folks like this overseeing tech policy should terrify us.
Besides apparently drawing from Big Brother’s Big Book of Ideas, Clinton’s proposal went even further, drifting into the realm of personal liberties: The former secretary also spoke out against “encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into.”
Here’s the thing: Law enforcement should absolutely not be in the habit of “breaking into” citizens’ personal devices. If law enforcement makes a lawful request — including a warrant — for information stored on a suspect’s phone, technology companies can — and regularly do — comply with all due haste. Even Rand Paul, the GOP’s sole presidential candidate this cycle, agreed on that: If the government wants to get into your iPhone, they need a warrant first.
When did we forget about due process?
What we’re talking about here — indeed, what the FBI explicitly asked Apple to create last year — is a backdoor into every iPhone in the country. Former Secretary Clinton, apparently, tacitly, agrees that this is an acceptable, legal and sane thing to ask for.
Two of a Kind
While Trump is busy blaming the Chinese, Clinton is busy blaming American citizens who feel for some reason (where would they get an idea like this?) that they’re entitled to a certain freedom from unreasonable (read: unwarranted) searches and seizures.
Is this the kind of leadership we can expect from a Trump or Clinton administration? This is one of the most important technology issues we’ve faced in a generation — and neither of them seem particularly interested in having a serious conversation.
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