Yesterday, against all odds, Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. The real estate mogul and reality TV star, who has said he would ban all Muslims from entering the country and once bragged about sexually assaulting women, will now take the reins of the country at a precarious time.
In an effort to bring some clarity to at least one portion of Trump’s platform, we’ve pulled together a list of the President-Elect’s previous statements and declarations about technology, in order to anticipate what might happen over the course of his term.
The Future of Big Telecom
A Trump presidency may well mean a hands-off approach to telecom. Trump is a businessman by trade, and his proposed regulatory platform will likely keep Elizabeth Warren, a notoriously hawkish regulation advocate, up at night. But much of his bluster has been focused on the environment and manufacturing, and he has not hinted at what direction he’ll head in the telecom and internet arena.
In October, for instance, Politico reported that Trump’s transition team would include Jeffrey Eisenach, which the outlet described as “a crusader against regulation”. He also tweeted — in 2014 — about net neutrality, claiming it would target conservative media.
But there’s always a chance that Trump will surprise you, and he did exactly that when he came out strongly against the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger. “As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said during a speech in October.
Trump has no public plan for broadband internet, which was one of the Obama Administration’s big priorities. Given his positions on other matters, however, we must assume that Trump will lean towards a deregulatory approach.
Trump also asked the FCC to fine a journalist who criticised him on television, so there’s that.
The Ever Escalating Cyber War
Among other things, this election was marked by a rash of cybersecurity-related episodes: The DNC hack, voter registration problems and an unprecedented DDoS attack. Trump capitalised on the collective anxiety these events created — at one point he literally asked Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s missing emails — and there’s zero indication he’s going to stop the fear mongering once he takes office.
.@realDonaldTrump: "We should turn cyber warfare into one of our greatest weapons against the terrorists."
— Fox News (@FoxNews) October 3, 2016
Trump’s relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin may also prove to be a wildcard. US officials have said they believe Russia was behind the hacks of the DNC and other organisations. The relationship between the two countries has become frosty, at best. Trump, however, has often been accused of cozying up to Putin, which would prove interesting for US-Russia relations no matter what, but particularly when it comes to security.
On the policy side, Trump’s cybersecurity platform is, as one Gizmodo staffer described it, word salad. It’s full of vague recommendations and ideas as well as devoid of any substance. Take, for example, his two-line plan for combating a cyber attack:
Develop the offensive cyber capabilities we need to deter attacks by both state and non-state actors and, if necessary, to respond appropriately.
Yet, Trump doesn’t actually appear to know what “the cyber” is, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the next four years and beyond. 2016 was the year in which security and technology-based attacks entered America’s national consciousness in a meaningful — and terrifying — way, and it would be nice to have a US president who’s prepared to respond adequately. Unfortunately, we get Donald Trump, a grown man whose own Twitter account was apparently taken away by his aides days before the election. He’s also a billionaire who’s possibly never even used a computer.
The Battle Over Encryption
Trump appears to support government surveillance over a person’s right to encryption and privacy. When Apple went face to face with the FBI in a heated legal battle over whether the government could compel Apple to unlock a terrorism suspect’s iPhone, Trump called for a boycott of Apple products until the company complied. “I agree 100 per cent with the courts. In that case, we should open it up,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends in February. “I think security, overall, we have to open it up and we have to use our heads. We have to use common sense… Somebody the other day called me a common-sense conservative. We have to use common sense.”
Trump will also be in a position to approve legislation on encryption. In April, Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein released an early draft of their anti-encryption bill. The bill, officially titled the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016, would require technology companies to decrypt customer’s data at a court’s request. The bill has been challenged by technology companies such as Apple, whose CEO Tim Cook has publicly stated creating a decryption key would be “the software equivalent of cancer“. President Obama also said he would not support the bill.
The Great Surveillance Siphon
Trump strongly supports the idea of surveilling US citizens, and he has never been shy about admitting it. Trump’s stance on surveillance appears to tied to his extreme views on domestic security. “I tend to err on the side of security,” Trump said during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt when asked about the NSA’s metadata program. “When you have the world looking at us and would like to destroy us as quickly as possible, I err on the side of security.”
Trump also called for surveillance of mosques as part of US law enforcement’s effort to prevent terrorism. “We have to maybe check, respectfully, the mosques, and we have to check other places because this is a problem that, if we don’t solve it, it’s going to eat our country alive,” he reportedly said at an Atlanta rally in June. Trump’s first call for surveilling mosques came back in November of last year, saying, “I want surveillance of certain mosques, OK?” Trump later added, “We’ve had it before, and we’ll have it again.”
At a campaign rally that same month, Trump criticised reporters for saying that he was going to create a database of Muslims, saying he was “referring to the wall [along the Southern US border], but database is OK. And watch list is OK. And surveillance is OK.”
He added, “If you don’t mind, I want to be, I want to surveil. I want surveillance of these people that are coming in, the Trojan horse, I want to know who the hell they are.”