Q: “With all the political noise out there this campaign season, I haven’t heard where both presidential candidates stand regarding Internet policy and online privacy. Since I believe this is such an important topic, can you fill us in?”
A: You would think that with as much money and hot air that is being put out there by both candidates that they would spend a bit of time detailing their Internet and online privacy policies. There is a significant difference between them.
No matter which way you intend to vote tomorrow, it’s important that you understand these differences, since they could have a significant impact on you and our country as a whole.
What They Agree On
In general, both Obama and Romney agree on making broadband Internet available to as many people as possible, and both oppose efforts by the International Telecommunications Union to set pricing on Internet interconnections and technical standards.
Both candidates say cybersecurity is a priority. Obama is reportedly close to signing an Executive Order to implement some of the provisions of the Cybersecurity Act (CSA) which failed to come to a vote in the Senate earlier this year. This act was aimed at protecting our digital infrastructure from outside attacks.
And both candidates opposed SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act), which allows the government and corporations to look for any possible copyright violation on any website they don’t like and shut it down.
Both parties, by the way, track you when you go to their campaign websites. Both install cookies on your computer to compile information about you. While you may not be worried about this if you plan to vote for a particular candidate, neither of them asked you beforehand if you wanted to be tracked or not. So on this issue, both candidates look pretty bad.
Where They Differ
In a nutshell, Obama believes in creating stronger rules governing the Internet, while Romney opposes this idea.
Obama and Romney’s biggest difference in this area is on net neutrality, which you probably have heard about. Net neutrality basically boils down to whether the government should prohibit Internet Service Providers from favoring some websites over others. Some people worried that ISP’s could “shut out” websites and destroy a completely free Internet.
Obama favors net neutrality, but has also offered exemptions to wireless networks. Romney opposes net neutrality rules, and believes that market forces will ensure an open Internet.
The Democratic Party has supported the Consumer Privacy Bill of rights, which gives citizens more control over how their personal information is collected and used by online companies. It also sets standards regarding individual control, transparency, and accountability.
The Democratic Party has also supported the Do Not Track option, which notifies websites that you do not want to have tracking cookies installed on your computer when you visit them.
However, some of these cybersecurity bills have been opposed by privacy advocates because they contain loopholes regarding how information is shared between third parties.
Yes, We Can Believe in Better Online Privacy for America
Obama has made some progress in regards to Internet policy and online privacy over the past four years, but many critics point out that he could have done more.
If you believe that the government should stay out of the argument altogether, then Romney may be your man.
Whichever side you favor, remember to exercise your civic duty on November 6th and vote.