New President to Face Lots of IT Homework

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's supertight presidential election, the winning candidate will walk -- perhaps unexpectedly -- into a myriad of complex information technology issues.

For example, swirling around the Internet industry are thorny privacy, taxation, and antitrust issues ready to snag the next occupant of the Oval Office.

"Either candidate that comes into office has got to spend some time in order to gain understanding of the new economy," said Jonathan Zuck, executive director of Washington-based Association for Competitive Technology.

That is, once campaign rhetoric subsides, either Al Gore or George W. Bush will have to delve deeper into technology issues.

As proof that those issues are just waiting to trip up politicians -- congressional as well as presidential -- a new study turned up several privacy gaffes on political candidates' Web sites. Netelection.org scoured 731 congressional sites to find that 70 percent collect personal information but only 15 percent of those describe how that information will be used.

"The candidates are not putting up privacy polices, not so much because they are collecting and selling information to third parties, but because they simply don't realize that this is so important," said Chris Hunter, a policy analyst for Netelection.org and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Though Hunter's report "Privacy and the Online Campaigns" does not target the Gore or Bush sites as privacy violators, he does contrast overall findings with political pledges from both parties.

From the Republican platform comes this: "Citizens must have the confidence that their personal privacy will be respected in the use of technology by both business and government."

And a similar pledge from the Democratic platform: "Al Gore has focused on the challenge of protecting Americans' personal privacy online."

Candidates running for Congress, which will next year almost certainly move on privacy legislation, are being less than scrupulous in finding third parties used to process campaign donations, Hunter claims.

Forty-five percent of candidates use a third-party site to handle donations but only 28 percent of those third parties have privacy policies, the report found.

"The use of privacy policies and third parties -- these are difficult issues. But you have to be very specific and knowledgeable to explain how you've implemented the technology," Hunter said.

Perhaps still unversed on many of the details, today's candidates, however, will face burning technical issues.

"But what is significant is that, unlike in the 1992 or 1996 election when only one campaign made aggressive outreach to the high-tech community, both candidates have done so," said Harris Miller, president of Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America.

Miller said learning nuances of technology issues will be compounded by the global nature of the Internet economy.

"The new president will have to understand these issues and approach them with a global context," Miller said.

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