Tech groups want Trump to actually notice their industry

The little Trump has said about tech so far has largely antagonized the industry

Donald Trump

Donald Trump at a rally in Florence, South Carolina, on Feb. 5, 2016.

Credit: Gage Skidmore/Trump Campaign

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for U.S. president, has antagonized much of the tech industry by opposing free trade and immigration but has otherwise nearly ignored this vital segment of the nation's economy.

As Republicans meet in Cleveland this week to officially declare Trump as their presidential candidate, several tech groups have called on him to release a tech agenda. The huge Consumer Technology Association has issued three press releases in the past week calling on Trump to outline his tech priorities.

The U.S. tech industry is "too critical to our country's future to be a policy afterthought," Gary Shapiro, the trade group's president and CEO, said in one release. Shapiro's veiled criticism of Republican Trump is notable after the trade group exec once accused Democrat Barack Obama of running "the most antibusiness administration" in his lifetime.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton released a lengthy tech-policy agenda in late June. She called on the U.S. to train 50,000 new computer science teachers over the next 10 years and to push green cards on foreign students earning advanced tech and science degrees from U.S. colleges.

In contrast, Trump has mentioned a handful of tech issues in passing during his campaign, and in most cases, his comments were antagonistic to tech companies. His lack of a tech agenda sends the message that he doesn't appear to care about those issues, said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech-focused think tank.

Trump should start talking about tech issues "if he wants to gain the support of the tech community and people who care about tech," Atkinson said.

Just last week, a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, company founders, engineers, and investors, in an open letter, said a Trump presidency would be a "disaster for innovation." The Trump campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on criticisms from the tech industry.

The Republican Party, during its convention this week, released its platform, and the 66-page document promotes several tech issues, including fewer regulations for the tech industry and using government to "cause diplomatic, financial, and legal pain" to countries supporting cyberattacks.

But the platform was written by Republican Party insiders, not the Trump campaign.

"Trump has not said anything [about most tech issues], so they're just painting on a clean canvas," Atkinson said.

The Republican platform is unlikely a blueprint for what Trump would do as president, added Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association. 

"The reality seems to be that there is little reason to believe that the Republican presidential candidate and the platform of the Republican Party are mutually trustworthy as guides to what might actually unfold in a Republican-controlled federal government," Black said by email.

Trump's opposition to free-trade deals, which are widely popular in a tech industry that seeks to expand its overseas sales, seems to have influenced the Republican platform. The platform this year offers a less full-throated defense of free trade than in past years, Atkinson noted.

When Trump has otherwise waded into tech debates, he hasn't made friends with most in the tech industry. He's criticized immigration programs and shifted positions on the H-1B skilled worker visa program popular with many tech companies.

In late 2014, he suggested "the internet and the whole computer age is really a mixed bag."

Trump has also criticized Apple for fighting the FBI's attempts to force the company to unlock an iPhone used by one of the suspects in the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. In February, he called on Apple's customers to boycott the company over the unlocking court fight.

The new Republican platform appears to depart from Trump's views on encryption by calling on Congress and the president to develop a consensus. "No matter the medium, citizens must retain the right to communicate with one another free from unlawful government intrusion," the platform says. "It will not be easy to balance privacy rights with the government’s legitimate need to access encrypted information."

CCIA's Black praised the platform for embracing encryption. It was good to see the platform recognize strong privacy protections as "crucial" to the digital economy, he said. "We certainly had concerns after Trump's prior claims that Apple is aiding terrorists and ought to be boycotted for refusing to develop a backdoor" for the FBI, he added.

Trump has also criticized Apple for building products overseas, saying he's going to force the company "to start building their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries." Trump's clothing line, however, is made in Bangladesh, Honduras, and other countries.

Trump has also said he's open to shutting down the parts of the internet that terrorists use to communicate.

In the past, Trump, a casino operator, has called for the U.S. to legalize internet gambling.

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