What will Trump's innovation policy look like?

Although specifics regarding innovation policy under a Trump administration remain unclear, Trump's campaign promises to create manufacturing jobs for American workers, make better trade deals and increase military spending will likely play out in the technology sector.

Uncertainty 2017
 

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Some of Donald Trump's biggest campaign promises included the creation of manufacturing jobs for American workers, making better trade deals and increasing military spending. Policies in these areas will affect a tech industry that reaches into every corner of the U.S. economy.

Trump convened leaders from top tech companies -- including Google, IBM, Apple, Intel, Cisco, Facebook, Amazon and others  -- for a meeting at Trump Tower on Dec. 14. Billed by the Trump transition as a "tech summit," tech leaders, Trump and aides discussed a range of topics, including cybersecurity, upgrades to software used by federal agencies and possible reforms to the federal procurement process.

On a Dec. 15 press call with reporters, a Trump spokesman said that the president-elect hoped to reconvene the group of tech leaders for future meetings, perhaps every quarter.

Despite the high-profile meeting, so far Trump has been light on specifics in terms of actual tech policy. Panelists at a Dec. 15 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event said that the lack of specifics makes guessing what Trump is going to do difficult.

On the campaign trail, Trump declared that cybersecurity will be "an immediate priority" for his administration.  However, Carolyn Brandon, senior industry and innovation fellow at the Georgetown University School of Business, cautioned that attempting to read too much into the Dec. 14 tech meeting as a sign of things to come "is a fool's errand."

"Every day you wake up, and you learn something new and different about our president elect and what he thinks and what he doesn't think," she said. "But if you take a look at who he's pulling into his cabinet, they are coming from the business sector.… [Trump] certainly is someone who would want to see government move out of the way and have business be allowed to do what it does."

Other panelists extrapolated his broader campaign promises, public statements and cabinet selections as indications of what innovation policy under a Trump administration might look like.

The deals that Trump has repeated he will improve will have to reckon with international exchanges of data and cross-border tech innovation, said Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, whose term extends until September 2018.

"I think our relationship with Europe is one of the most important data-exchange relationships in the world for the U.S.," she said. "We have a challenge because the U.S. and the Europeans have a fundamentally different view on policy.… We see it more as a liberty, and they see it more as a dignity interest.… The question is, can we come up with an interoperable system that allows these data flows to occur while still respecting the sovereignty in each area?"

The Privacy Shield agreement, of which FTC is the enforcer, that replaced the Safe Harbor agreement is the current attempt at that system. "It's important for continued innovation, for continued economic growth for this to work.… But we have more work to do on it," she said, adding that it is "particularly important for smaller companies."

David Gross, a partner at the law firm Wiley Rein, LLC, said that the selection of Wilbur Ross as secretary of the Department of Commerce shows Trump's commitment to making and enforcing better deals domestically and internationally and creating jobs in the United States, be they in manufacturing or in tech.

ITIF's president Robert Atkinson added, "I think one of the challenges for the tech industry is [to address] how do we get technology to be a force that's going to be making Nebraska a stronger economy, or making Wisconsin a stronger economy, both through direct tech jobs and through other means."

Trump also made clear his general opposition to government regulation. In the tech arena, removing barriers to innovation would be a good thing, said Bryan Tramont, managing partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer, a law firm with specializations in internet services, consumer protection and cybersecurity.

"We don't know what economic models are going to work on the internet," he said. "Part of the strength of our economy has always been letting companies try to figure it out."

Another area on which Trump "has been very outspoken" is the need to bolster national security and cybersecurity, Atkinson said.

Atkinson suggested that Trump's stances, particularly his public siding with the FBI when Apple opposed a court order to disable security features on an iPhone in the San Bernardino case, suggest "perhaps an overreach on law enforcement."

In November, a lobbying group of 40 internet giants stressed the importance of strong encryption -- among other innovation priorities -- through a letter.

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