Guest Editorial: Tech issues must be debated

San Jose Mercury News
Nov. 3
Guest Editorial

The tech industry is largely responsible for pulling the nation out of its economic spiral. It is vital to America’s long-term prosperity — but you wouldn’t know it from watching the presidential debates.

Oh, there was a tech-related immigration question asked of Sen. Marco Rubio and an Internet sales tax question for Carly Fiorina. But Chris Christie nailed it last week when he asked moderators why they were asking about fantasy football when there are so many more substantive questions crucial to voters.

Candidates of both parties have yet to debate the crucial issue of privacy versus national security that has pitted the tech community against the intelligence community — and, by the way, is increasingly on the minds of voters. A Pew Research Center poll earlier this year showed that 93 percent of American adults say “being in control of who can get information about them is important,” and 74 percent feel it’s “very important.”

President Barack Obama has clearly put security before privacy. Do Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates agree? And what could we expect of Republicans — particularly front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who have no public record to turn to.

The tech community donated nearly $10 million to the presidential candidates through Sept. 30. But it has yet to hear how candidates other than Rubio feel about increasing the number of high-skilled worker visas, which many Silicon Valley CEOs rank as a crucial need. The H-1B visa question is caught up in the larger immigration debate. Do any candidates have ideas for getting past this innovation-stifling issue? The Bay Area would sure love to hear it.

Last month, the European Court of Justice invalidated the Safe Harbor pact, the international agreement that allows tech firms to move data between the European Union and the United States. That raises a huge diplomatic challenge to reach a new agreement. The next president needs to understand that decisions on privacy, or lack thereof, have international repercussions for American tech companies competing in the global marketplace.

That’s not all. Where do candidates stand on net neutrality? Patent reform? Expanding broadband access?

Then there’s the $2.1 trillion in profits that U.S. companies are stashing overseas so they won’t have to pay U.S. taxes. Tax reform could bring home that money so it could be invested in all sorts of ways and generate tax revenues that could help rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. More than $400 billion of that money is being held by tech companies such as Google and Apple. Does anyone have a tax reform plan to bring that money home?

The Republican candidates will gather again Nov. 10 in Milwaukee, and the Democratic candidates will debate Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. Tech leaders — and anybody who uses a computer — ought to be watching.