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What the U.S election means for the tech sector

By Shannon Williams
Wed 9 Nov 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

With the results of what is arguably the most controversial election in history expected in just hours, opinions, surveys, theories and threats are out in full force.

Today marks the day the world learns the name of the next President of the United States. Passions are high, predictions are dire and the world is sitting on the edge of its seat, its citizens hiding behind their shaky hands.

Tech is involved in almost very aspect of our lives. While business, education and healthcare are all due for a shakeup no matter today’s results, what does it all mean to the tech sector?

If the internet is to be believed, the majority of the tech sector are Clinton supporters.

In an open letter to the Huffington post in July, more than 140 tech leaders including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said Trump would be a “disaster for innovation”.

The letter says Trump “stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy -- and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth."

Fundraising among Silicon Valley’s tech superstars has seen backing for Clinton, with Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook all donating and fundraising for her campaign.

Earlier this year it was revealed Apple withheld financial technological support for the Republican convention, citing the controversial positions held by Donald Trump and his comments of minorities, women and immigrants as the reason.

Despite this opposition, the idea of a silent majority cannot be discounted.

Facebook board member Peter Thiel shared his support for Trump at the Republican National Convention, saying “I build companies and I’m supporting people who are building new things. Trump is a builder, and it’s time to rebuild America.”  

A report by David Morris on Fortune says there are ‘stark differences’ between the two presidential hopefuls when it comes to tech and innovation, “With one candidate offering something close to a wish list for Silicon Valley, and the other supporting trade, labour, and security policies that few there would endorse.”

While Clinton has a thorough outline of her tech plans on her campaign website, finding Trump’s was far more difficult as he has no specific policies on technology and innovation. You can see both agendas here and here.

Clinton’s tech policy has a big focus on education, start ups and privacy.

While Clinton has voiced support for the H-1B visa program, which many tech giants use to lure overseas talent to their offices, Trump, on the other hand, says companies need to prioritise hiring Americans.

Trump’s policy is to increase mandated wage levels for workers arriving with H-1B visas, benefiting American workers. He says raising the wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give jobs to existing unemployed native and immigrant workers in the US.

“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," Trump says. 

"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.”

While some reports suggest this could decrease tech hiring flexibility, there is support for Trump’s stance with some businesses priding themselves on hiring Americans.

Derek Wlodarz, owner of technology and consulting firm FireLogic, says on betanews.com that Facebook’s Zuckerberg uses the “false narrative of being hungry for more skilled labour to cover up his real motives” of hiring foreign works who are “able and willing to work for pennies on the dollar.”

On top of support for the H-1B visas, Clinton is in support of a special startup visa that allows foreign entrepreneurs to come to the US, build technology-oriented companies and create job opportunities - a move that will please Silicon Valley.

According to the policy, immigrant entrepreneurs would have to obtain a commitment of financial support from U.S. investors before obtaining the visa, and would have to create a certain number of jobs and reach performance benchmarks in order to pursue a green card.

Part of Clinton’s policy will see Clinton staple a green card to STEM masters and PhDs, enabling international students who complete degrees in those fields to move to Green Card status.

According to her tech policy, Clinton has also committed to more investment in computer science and STEM education, as part of her Tech & Innovation Agenda. Part of this commitment is backing the Obama “Computer Science Education for All” initiative that ensures all public school students will have access to computer science education.

According to the Clinton campaign, the lack of STEM programming is even more pronounced in schools with high concentrations of students of colour, a statistic her policies will aim to reverse.

Clinton will also launch an initiative to expand the pool of computer science teachers.

Trump has no official STEM policies on his campaign website.

According to Clinton’s policy, her administration is committed to diversifying the tech workforce, by putting a “special emphasis” on minority and women advancement in the fields of research, technology and engineering.

“[Hillary] believes we must break down the barriers to full and equal participation by all groups in the 21st century economy—particularly in cutting-edge sectors. 

Clinton will increase access to capital for growth-oriented small businesses and start ups, according to her policy guidelines. This will come with a focus on minority, women and young entrepreneurs. Part of this policy will see her administration defer student loans to help young entrepreneurs.

This would mean deferment from having to make any payments on their student loans for up to three years—zero interest and zero principal—as they work through the critical start-up phase of new enterprises. 

Clinton also supports the fight for an Open Internet Abroad, stating she will oppose efforts to block or degrade internet access and social media.

“She will stand with likeminded countries against efforts by countries like China and Russia to to create a balkanised internet run by governments.”

While most reports suggest Trump’s platform has struggled to get the support of the tech sector, there are a few ideas the sector could get behind.

One of Trump’s goals is to force China to stop its technology-sharing mandates, which currently require U.S companies to share patents with local partners in order to enter the Chinese market.

Clinton’s email server fiasco can be considered a blow to the democrat’s tech ideals, with reports calling it “gross IT negligence of national security”, and her “blatant, careless usage of a probate email server” the single most important tech issue this election.

When it comes to cyber security, Trump’s campaign website says he will order an ‘immediate review’ of all U.S cyber defences and vulnerabilities from the military, law enforcement and the private sector, known as the Cyber Review Team.

The Cyber Review Team will provide specific recommendations for safeguarding different entities with the best defense technologies tailored to the likely threats, and will followed up regularly at various Federal agencies and departments, Trump’s policy reads.

Trump says that the United states needs to be better than anybody else when it comes to cyber security.

"We are not doing the job we should be doing. But that's true throughout our whole governmental society. We have so many things that we have to do better and certainly cyber is one of them," Trump is quoted as saying.

"We came up with the internet, and Clinton and myself would agree very much, when you look at what ISIS is doing with the internet, they're beating us at our own game. So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is a huge problem."

Trump says deliberate cyber attacks on America by countries such as China border on being acts of war. According to Endgaget, Trump says "America should counter attack and make public every action taken by China to steal or disrupt our operations, whether they be private or governmental.”

According to Cnet, Trump has indicated he is not sympathetic to privacy concerns when public safety is involved, and called out Apple during its standoff with the FBI over cracking open an iPhone used by a terrorist.

However, he is also quoted as saying “The United States government should not spy on its own citizens. That will not happen in a Trump administration.” (Scientific American).

When it comes to taxes, Trump wants to encourage US companies to build within its own borders by employing a 35% tax on products made outside of the US. In January, he said they’d make Apple build their products in the United States.

According to Investopedia, Trump plans on giving large corporations big tax break. “Instead of the up to 39% tax rate firms may face when bringing cash back home, Trump proposes a one-time charge of 10% for repatriated cash. This tax reduction would free up billions for tech firms.”

It seems whoever is next to take up residency in the White House will likely have a major impact on how the big tech policy issues shape up.

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