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President Trump: An uncertain future for tech industry, digital rights

Grant Gross | Nov. 10, 2016
The new president's tech policy agenda is thin, and what little there is makes IT nervous.

Trump's positions on trade during the campaign worry many tech companies, even though Republicans, who will still control both houses of Congress, have generally supported free trade.

The tech industry also doesn't have a clear understanding about Trump's views on spectrum policy and on intellectual property, Reid said. 

The uncertainty over Trump's positions on a range of issues "makes people nervous," Reid said. Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign put out position papers on a number of issues, and "they had people who understood these issues and cared about them."

Trump released a "leaner set of policy papers," Reid added. "For the day after, there are still more question marks than answers. That's probably as disconcerting as any particular policy statement."

Trump voiced strong opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals, but it's unclear what the alternative is, Reid added. Would he renegotiate the TPP and other trade deals? Would he stop pursuing new trade deals?

Rob Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech-focused think tank, sees a Trump presidency as a "mixed bag" for the tech industry.

While Trump may try to rewrite trade deals, he may also look to enforce trade obligations in deals with countries like China and Mexico, Atkinson said. China and other countries "have put the gun to tech's head" through requirements such as local investments, he noted.

Trump should be "a lot tougher" on trade enforcement than President Barack Obama's administration has, Atkinson predicted.

Otherwise, expect Trump to push for corporate tax reform, with a Republican Congress eager to go along with his plans to cut taxes, Atkinson added. Many tech companies will welcome those changes.

On the negative side for many IT companies, Trump's anti-immigration stance will likely mean the U.S. tech industry won't see an expansion of skilled worker visa programs, as many companies have pushed for, Atkinson added. "You can kiss high-skill immigration [expansion] goodbye for the next four years," he said.

Other tech policy experts were still reeling from Trump's unexpected victory.

"I'd be kidding myself if I thought I knew what to expect," said Matt Wood, policy director of digital rights group Free Press. "About anything."

It's nearly impossible to predict the impact of a Trump presidency on technology policy, he added by email. "Trump's mix of irresponsibly deregulatory policies, coupled with his embrace of utter falsehoods and ignorance about how the internet works, are alarming, to say the least," he said.


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