What does Donald Trump have to say about technology? Not much

Donald Trump technology H-1B visas China hacking
Credit: REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl

A run-down of Donald Trump’s comments and campaign promises involving technology.

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Donald Trump isn't much of a technophile. 

The surprise frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election said he hadn't adopted email as late as 2007, and was only using it "very rarely" by 2013, according to The New York Times, which published these admissions among many other revealing statements Trump has made under oath in depositions over the past decade.

Trump still reads hard-copy news and magazine articles, and even dictates his oft-controversial Tweets to a team of PR underlings who send them out on his account, according to The Washington Post.

So it may not be that surprising that Trump's pre-campaign track record involves very little in the way of technology-related matters. Trump's "technology" topic page on OnTheIssues.org lists three topics, the first two of which involve improving travel infrastructure and his Emmy award for his reality TV show The Apprentice. However, it does reproduce Trump's brief denunciation of China's hacking of U.S. government and financial information from Trump's 2011 book, Time To Get Tough:

What China is doing on the cyber warfare front is equally alarming. Cyber spying can isolate network weaknesses and allow the Chinese to steal valuable intelligence.

China presents three big threats to the United States in its outrageous currency manipulation, its systematic attempt to destroy our manufacturing base, and its industrial espionage and cyber warfare against America. The Chinese have been running roughshod over us for years. Obama claims we can't do what's in our interests because it might spark a "trade war"--as if we're not in one now. 

Since Trump launched his presidential campaign, he has discussed how he'd address a couple of technology-related issues if he's elected president. Here's a rundown of Trump's on-the-record comments on technology topics.

H-1B Visas

The one technology-related issue for which Trump has proposed a policy is H-1B visas, a topic which aligns perfectly with his constant criticisms of U.S. immigration policies. In an effort to push tech companies to value domestic workers over foreign competition, Trump has called for an increase in the minimum allowable wage for workers with H-1B visas, and personally called out Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for the practice.

The following comes from Trump's immigration reform policy whitepaper (PDF), which he released in August and has reproduced on his website:

We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program. More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program's lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two. Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg's personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.

However, when confronted with these claims in the Republican presidential debate in late October, Trump denied ever having criticized the Facebook CEO and claims someone else must have fabricated any critical comments he's made about Zuckerberg's position on H-1B visas. Via The New York Times:

QUICK: Mr. Trump, let's stay on this issue of immigration. You have been very critical of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook who has wanted to increase the number of these H1Bs.

TRUMP: I was not at all critical of him. I was not at all. In fact, frankly, he's complaining about the fact that we're losing some of the most talented people. They go to Harvard. They go to Yale. They go to Princeton. They come from another country and they're immediately sent out. I am all in favor of keeping these talented people here so they can go to work in Silicon Valley.

QUICK: So you're in favor of...

TRUMP: So I have nothing at all critical of him.

QUICK: Where did I read this and come up with this that you were...

TRUMP: Probably, I don't know — you people write the stuff. I don't know where you...

Why the president shouldn't use the internet

In an interview with Breitbart Tech published last week, Trump made more on-the-record comments about technology than ever before. Responding to a question about how he would use the internet "to reach out to young people and minorities," Trump eventually said he'd forgo it and meet with them face-to-face.

The Internet is a tool. Sometimes it is a scalpel. Sometimes it is a chainsaw. It has proven to be a great new messaging tool for any number of causes, including getting people elected to office. Access to the Internet is critical if is to be used to reach young people or minorities. Young people, generally, can be reached through social media.

As for reaching minorities, the next President must go beyond using the Internet and must go into neighborhoods, churches, community centers and schools to make that personal contact. Frank dialogue and personal commitment is by far the best approach.

Again, perhaps not surprising for a man who is still new to email.

Cyberwar with China

Also in the Breitbart interview, Trump made a handful of vague comments regarding cybersecurity before once again singling out China as the primary hacking threat against the U.S. government and economy. Trump said that, since 9/11, the U.S. has "done a fairly good job" in terms of cybersecurity. Except, however, when it comes to China.

However, we continue to have persistent, intentional and deliberate attacks on American cyberspace by agents from, or acting on behalf of, China. These actions border on being acts of war. America should counter attack and make public every action taken by China to steal or disrupt our operations, whether they be private or governmental.

The tech industry: Good but also bad

Trump sent a mixed message when responding to separate questions regarding the tech industry in the Breitbart interview. He answered one question, about how his presidency would impact the technology industry, by saying "I am a big believer in technology." To the very next question, which was about the threat of artificial intelligence, he replied, "I have always been concerned about the social breakdown of our culture caused by technology," just before decrying the "unhealthy" and "increased dependence and addiction to electronic devices."

To elaborate on how he'd impact the technology industry, Trump said he would protect intellectual property in the technology sector, warning that "letting other countries steal our property will not happen on my watch."

As for artificial intelligence, Trump told Breitbart "creators and users alike should always consider the ethical and moral consequences of all activities." Hard to disagree there.

NSA data collection and privacy rights

Earlier in that Breitbart interview, Trump basically sat on the fence regarding the U.S. government's collection of citizens' communication data. He closed by putting the onus on Congress to decide how much is too much when it comes to NSA data collection. 

To the extent that the [NSA] can accomplish its mission without violating the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, it should be given as much leeway as possible. However, American citizens are guaranteed certain protections. There must be a balance between those Constitutional protections and the role of the government in protecting its citizens. Congress should continue to be the arbiter of that balance.

One way to read this is that more legislation is needed to benefit both the NSA and privacy rights. Another way is that President Trump would deflect responsibility for striking that balance.

Technology Trump has overlooked

Part of Trump's anti-immigration argument is the financial drag that illegal immigrants, particularly those entering from the Mexican border, have put on the U.S. economy. One specific part of his argument, however, has been refuted because it failed to factor in one major technological breakthrough of the past few years – bitcoin.

Trump has insisted on building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and his financial solution to doing so is to give the bill to the Mexican government. Part of the justification is that illegal immigrants who have taken untaxed wages in the U.S. have sent money back to their friends and family in Mexico through remittances, which Trump says the U.S. should impound as a tactic to force Mexico's hand. Apparently, once Mexico pays to build a wall between itself and the United States, legal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. could send money across the border again.

However, an article published in Fortune in August pointed out how bitcoin services could make any attempt to impound traditional remittances futile.

Not only are such exchanges cheaper than traditional wire transfers, but they are faster and would be virtually impossible for the U.S. government to block (given that Bitcoin transfers don't include identifying information that could be matched against federal identification databases). There is even a service that lets people in the U.S. send Bitcoin to ATMs in Mexico, where the intended recipient can withdraw their money in pesos.

As smartphone penetration increases in Mexico and cryptocurrency technology advances, it's a trend that should only accelerate (particularly if the U.S. government tries to stop wire transfers).

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