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The Silicon Valley Candidate

Photo by aphrodite-in-nyc | CC BY 2.0

Photo by aphrodite-in-nyc | CC BY 2.0

 

By refusing to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cast doubt on her independence from the crooks who run the financial system.  By contrast, Clinton’s program for “technology and innovation policy” has been an open book since June 2016.  What she publicized is as revealing – and as disturbing – as what she tried to keep secret.

Clinton paints her tech agenda in appealing terms.  She says it’s about reducing social and economic inequality, creating good jobs, and bridging the digital divide. The real goals – and beneficiaries – are different.  The document is described as “a love letter to Silicon Valley” by a journalist,[1] and as a “Silicon Valley wish list” by the Washington Post.[2]

On the domestic side, Clinton promises to invest in STEM education and immigration reform to expand the STEM workforce by allowing green cards for foreign workers who’ve earned STEM degrees in the US. The internet industry has been lobbying Congress for years to reform US immigration policy to gain flexibility in hiring, to ease access to a global pool of skilled labor, and to weaken employees’ bargaining power.[3]

Clinton’s blanket endorsement of online education opens new room for an odious private industry.  With buzzwords like “entrepreneurship,” “competitive,” and “bootstrap,” Clinton wants to “leverage technology”: by “delivering high-speed broadband to all Americans” she declares it will be feasible to provide “wrap-digitaldepressaround learning for our students in the home and in our schools.”[4] Absent an overt commitment to public education, this is an encouragement to online vendors to renew their attack on the U.S. education system – despite a track record of failure and flagrant corruption. Still more deceitful is Hillary’s lack of acknowledgment of a personal conflict of interest.  According to a Financial Times analysis, after stepping down as Secretary of State in 2013, Hillary accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches to private education providers; her husband Bill has “earned” something like $21 million from for-profit education companies since 2010.[5]

Clinton’s proposal for access to high-speed Internet for all by 2020 would further relax regulation to help the Internet industry to build new networks, tap into existing public infrastructure, and encourage “public and private” partnerships. These are euphemisms for corporate welfare, after the fashion of the Google fiber project – which is substantially subsidized by taxpayers, as cities lease land to the giant company for its broadband project at far below market value and offer city services for free or below cost.[6] Clinton’s policy program also backs the 5G wireless network initiative and the release of unlicensed spectrum to fuel the “Internet of Thing.” (IoT). 5G wireless and IoT are a solution in search of a problem – unless you are a corporate supplier or a business user of networks.  This is an unacknowledged program to accelerate and expand digital commodification.

Clinton’s international plans are equally manipulative. She will press for “an open Internet abroad,” that is, for “internet freedom” and “free flow of information across borders.” Despite the powerful appeal of this rhetoric, which she exploited systematically when she was Secretary of State, Clinton actually is pushing to bulwark U.S. big capital in general, and U.S. internet and media industries, in particular.  Secretary Clinton’s major speech on Internet freedom[7] in 2010 came mere days after Google’s exit from China, supposedly on grounds of principle, making it plain that the two interventions – one private, one public – were coordinated elements of a single campaign.  Outside the United States, especially since the disclosures by Edward Snowden in 2013, it is increasingly well-understood that the rhetoric of human rights is a smokescreen for furthering U.S. business interests.[8] Reviving this approach is cynical electioneering rather than an endeavor to advance human rights or, indeed, more just international relations.

This in turn provides the context in which to understand Clinton’s vow to support the “multi-stakeholder” approach to Internet governance.  “Multi-stakeholderism” endows private corporations with public responsibilities, while it downgrades the ability of governments to influence Internet policy – as they have tried to do, notably, in the United Nations.  By shifting the domain in this way, the multi-stakeholder model actually reduces the institutional room available to challenge U.S. power over the global Internet.  It was for this very reason that the Obama Administration recently elevated multi-stakeholderism into the reigning principle for global Internet governance:  On 1 October, the U.S. Commerce Department preempted (other) governments from exercising a formal role.

This is, once again, the preferred agenda of Silicon Valley.[9] Aaron Cooper, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Software Alliance, a Washington trade group representing software developers, crowed in a Washington Post interview, “A lot of the proposals that are in the Clinton initiative are consistent with the broad themes that [we] and other tech associations have been talking about, so we’re very pleased.”[10]

To build up her policy platform in this vital field, Clinton has assembled a network of more than 100 tech and telecom advisors.[11] The members of this shadowy group have not been named, but they are said to include former advisors and officials, affiliates of think-tanks and trade groups, and executives at media corporations.  Apparently, just as with respect to Wall Street, the public has no right to know who is shaping Clinton’s program for technology.  Equally clearly, however, it is meant to resonate with Apple’s Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz – all of whom have publicly rallied to her campaign.[12]

Some might choose to emphasize that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has not even bothered to hint to voters about his tech and information policy. Fair enough. Clinton’s program, though, is both surreptitious and plutocratic. It’s not that she’s not good enough – it’s that she’s in the wrong camp.  England’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “Digital Democracy” program offers a better entry point for thinking about democratic information policy, as it includes publicly financed universal internet access, fair wages for cultural workers, release to open source of publicly funded software and hardware, cooperative ownership of digital platforms and more.  That would be a start.

Notes.

[1] Noah Kulwin, “Hillary Clinton’s tech policy proposal sounds like a love letter to Silicon Valley,” recode, June 28, 2016.

[2] Brian Fung, “Hillary Clinton’s tech agenda is really a huge economic plan in disguise,Washington Post, June 28, 2016.

[3] Schiller, D. & Yeo. S. (Forthcoming, Fall 2016) Science and Engineering Into Digital Capitalism, in Tyfield, D., Lave, R., Randalls, S., and Thorpe, C. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of the Political Economy of Science.

[4] “Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation,” The Briefing, June 27, 2016.

[5] Gary Silverman, “Hillary and Bill Clinton: The For-Profit Partnership,” Financial Times, July 21, 2016.

[6] Kenric Ward, “Taxpayers subsidize Google Fiber in this city with bargain land leases,” Watchdog.org, August 16, 2016; Timothy B. Lee,”How Kansas City taxpayers support Google Fiber,” arstechnica, September 7, 2012.

[7] Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, “Remarks on Internet Freedom,” January 21, 2010, The Newseum, Washington, DC.

[8] Dan Schiller, Digital Depression.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014: 161-69.

[9] Heather Greenfield, “CCIA Applauds Hillary Clinton’s Tech Agenda,” Computer & Communications Industry Association, June 28, 2016.

[10] Brian Fung, “Hillary Clinton’s tech agenda is really a huge economic plan in disguise,” Washington Post, June 28, 2016.

[11] Margaret Harding McGill & Nancy Scola, “Clinton quietly amasses tech policy corps,” Politico, August 24, 2016; Steven Levy, “How Hillary Clinton Adopted the Wonkiest Tech Policy Ever,” Backchannel, August 29, 2016 ; Tony Romm, “Inside Clinton’s tech policy circle,” Politico, June 7, 2016.

[12]Sen. Hilary Clinton, OpenSecrets.org; Levy Sumagaysay, “Facebook co-founder pledges $20 million to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump,” The Mercury News, September 9, 2016;  Russell Brandom, “Tim Cook is hosting a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton,Verge, July 29, 2016.

This article originally appeared on Information Observatory.

Dan Schiller is a historian of information and communications at the University of Illinois. His most recent book is Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis Shinjoung Yeo is an assistant prof at Loughborough University in London.

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