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How the presidential candidates stand on technology issues
(IDG) -- With rallies in the news, debates on the networks, and political ads everywhere the eye can see, you'd think the candidates could have elucidated their positions on every possible issue.
Not quite. Throughout the current presidential campaign, most of the candidates have largely ignored the Internet and related technology concerns. PC World decided to pin down the candidates on critical technology issues.
Each presidential campaign was queried on 20 top technology issues, including whether the government should tax Internet sales or pay for wiring schools, and whether e-mail deserves First Amendment protection. Since some of the campaigns did not answer all the questions, we scoured their official campaign Web sites for any statements, position papers, or FAQs that explained their stands on these issues.
While we expected some of the candidates to agree on a few of the issues, we were surprised by the degree to which all six candidates -- Al Gore, George W. Bush, the Green Party's Ralph Nader, the Libertarians' Harry Browne, Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, and Natural Law/Independent candidate John Hagelin -- expressed the same opinions.
All the candidates from whom we received answers agreed that the content of e-mail deserves the same First Amendment protection as any other published material. (The candidates all agreed that e-mail messages also deserve the same privacy protection as paper mail.)
Unanimously answered in the affirmative: When we asked whether the First Amendment should protect all postings of messages or files on the Internet, every candidate answered yes. We meant for answers to this question to cover the topic of digital media, like MP3 files, as well as other programmed code such as computer viruses. But it appears the candidates didn't read the question that way, and Bush and Gore 's answers to questions asked about topics like Napster indicate a more moderate view of decentralized file sharing and intellectual property rights than they expressed in our questionnaire.
But both the major candidates gave a hint to their similar views in an online debate about Napster, the popular file sharing software. "We must find a way to apply our copyright laws to ensure that artists, writers, and creators can earn a profit from their creations," Bush wrote, "while at the same time, adapting to and utilizing new technologies to deliver media to consumers in an Information Age." Meanwhile, Gore rebutted that "we need a compromise that allows Napster-type technologies to flourish but does not take away the artist's intellectual property."
Privacy Makes Strides
Most of the candidates came out in favor of creating rules that would require businesses to protect the privacy of their customers. One way to do that is to make it easy to get and use encryption software, which scrambles a message or data so only the intended recipient can read it. When we asked about encryption software, nearly all the candidates agreed that the government should not restrict access to encryption software; current laws prevent some very high levels of encryption from being widely distributed to the public, for fear that criminals would use the software to hide messages about their criminal deeds from the eyes of law enforcement.
We also asked the candidates whether they would sign into law a hypothetical bill that would prevent social security numbers from being used as identification for anything other than tax returns. With identity theft crimes on the rise, some consumer advocacy groups have argued that insurance and financial businesses need an alternative to the social security number as a form of ID for transactions. Only Ralph Nader said he would sign such a bill. Nader also was the only candidate to indicate mild support for a sales tax on Internet purchases, arguing that having no sales tax on online purchases gives Internet businesses an unfair competitive advantage over local, brick-and-mortar businesses.
Child Protection Takes a Front Seat
All the candidates want to keep kids safe from unsavory Web content, and they feel commercial Internet-content blocking software is the way to do that. Blocking software runs in the background, constantly looking at what Web sites are loading in the browser. If the software sees a URL on its internal blacklist, the blocking software loads a page that says the blocked site is not accessible. But the companies that make blocking software have come under fire in the past year for blocking legitimate sites as well as objectionable ones. Each company that makes filtering software keeps its blacklist strictly private.
For the most part, the candidates trust the filtering software companies (and feel that we should, too, as Governor Bush's Web site even has a link to two of the filtering companies' Web sites), though Buchanan and Hagelin feel school administrators should also be involved in choosing which sites get filtered -- something not technically possible with the commercial filtering software currently available.
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