Obama touts fast networks, cyber security in State of the Union

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Some familiar tech topics turned up in President Obama’s annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, including a pledge to build “the fastest internet” and the need to ensure hackers can’t “shut down our networks [or] steal our trade secrets.”

This year’s speech, which focused heavily on themes of education and the middle-class, also included shout-outs to four Silicon Valley companies — [company]Google[/company], [company]eBay[/company] and [company]Tesla[/company] and [company]Facebook[/company]’s Instagram — while praising America’s advances in solar and wind energy.

Obama also emphasized the need for more broadband in building the economy:

I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.

An online version of the speech also included a graphic that hit a tech trifecta of open internet, crowd-funding and solar energy:

SOTU image

(Close observers of the net neutrality debate may note, however, that Obama’s speech did not repeat his call last year for the FCC to employ a common carrier law called Title II to ensure net neutrality.)

At a time when cyber security and surveillance remain front and center in light of the Sony attacks and ongoing Snowden revelations, Obama delivered what was perhaps a mixed message. On one hand, he called for tighter security and new laws to protect privacy:

We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information [..]

As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties?—?and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks. So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.

But on the other hand, the President did not address his government’s controversial policies to undermine encryption (which offers the best guarantee of privacy and security), and nor did he speak to the ongoing legal challenges to the NSA’s collection of meta-data and internet communications.

Another tech issue that failed to make the cut was patent reform legislation, which the President said in last year’s speech was needed to ensure companies could “stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.”

And while Obama did address drones, which are a hot topic for the tech sector, he only did so in terms of civil liberties, claiming the government has “worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.”

Ultimately, the most memorable tech aspect of the speech may turn out to be how the White House delivered it: instead of following the past practice of issuing copies to favorite media outlets, the Administration posted it to the buzzy publishing platform Medium before Obama even delivered it, and invited the public to follow along and “tweet favorite lines.”

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