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The Candidates on Cyber Issues: Clinton and Stein

By October 17, 2016 Cybersecurity Readiness

It’s an election year, which means it’s time for candidates to present their platforms and policy proposals. Even more exciting is that it’s a presidential election year. While the president should be a guiding hand for all policy issues foreign and domestic, we ought to pay particular attention to cyber issues in this election. Donald Trump (R), Hillary Clinton (D), Gary Johnson (L), and Jill Stein (G) have been arguing for their respective platforms for almost two years now. Unfortunately, the discussion on cyber issues has featured mainly Clinton’s email scandal, Trump’s misuse of terms like “the cyber,” accusations of Russian hackers meddling in the election process, and only brief mentions in debates and speeches. By and large, the candidates don’t have concrete policy prescriptions for cyber issues. This doesn’t befit one of the toughest challenges facing the next president. In this post we’ll briefly outline the major cyber issues and compare Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein’s positions. Next time we’ll take a look at Donald Trump and Gary Johnson’s positions on cyber issues.

The Issues at a Glance

As with many issues facing the president, cyber issues are varied, challenging, and both foreign and domestic in scope. Cyberwarfare and national cybersecurity are complex issues that demand nuance and deliberation. The outbreak of cyberwarfare is plausible, and cyberattacks are already underway. It would be ideal to avoid cyberwarfare, but current diplomatic efforts have gone only so far. All-out cyberwarfare would pose a serious risk to the global population and economy’s reliance on the internet for communication and commerce. Barring that, there is an overarching question of who controls the internet and guarantees its freedom.

On the home front, this year we saw the upholding of the FCC’s rules on net neutrality. The controversial rules mandate that US internet service providers cannot discriminate against traffic—they can’t slow down some traffic and make other traffic faster for a price (i.e., paid “fast lanes”). Internet freedom and equality are great in theory, but they make sense only if users have reasonable expectations of privacy and security. In everyday life, warrantless surveillance is considered an infringement on freedom—hence, the Fourth Amendment. The same principle can be extended to cyberspace. Yet, the USA PATRIOT Act enabled the US government to collect data in bulk, though its power has been limited slightly by the USA FREEDOM Act. Nevertheless, privacy is virtually impossible without strong encryption. The prolonged fight between Apple and the FBI following the San Bernardino terrorist attack served as a reminder of this and has become a controversial topic in the campaign. Finally, the candidates have weighed in on the legal status of Edward Snowden, who has requested a presidential pardon by President Obama. While President Obama has mostly ignored Snowden’s request, the candidates have provided mixed opinions.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has put serious effort into incorporating cyber issues into her foreign and domestic policy positions, though she doesn’t offer many concrete implementation details. Clinton takes a moderate view of cyberwarfare, though she does support investment in national cybersecurity and offensive and defensive cyber capabilities. Generally, her position is one of modernization and collaboration to improve national cybersecurity. Clinton supports public-private cybersecurity collaboration and adoption of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. She also supports retaliatory cyberwarfare, though she is less enthusiastic than Trump. Clinton admits that China and Russia are advanced cyber threats, and she hopes to leverage US allies in Europe and Asia to deter aggression and cybercrime. She wants to hold China and Russia accountable, but she doesn’t want to jeopardize already frail relations. Clinton fully supports the move to a global internet governance community of engineers, companies, groups, and users. More broadly, Clinton has called for an open internet abroad with safeguards for the free flow of information across borders. She has opposed government-controlled internet and has denounced efforts to restrict access and rights, such as freedom of speech. As for terrorism, Clinton has called for US technology companies to work with the government to prevent the further spread of the Islamic State within the United States and abroad.

Clinton’s moderate views extend to her domestic policy positions. She has called net neutrality a government obligation and a means to support the unrestricted flow of information on the internet. As a US Senator from New York, Clinton twice supported the USA PATRIOT Act. She has since changed her position to support strong consumer privacy protection through adaptive regulations. She reasons that information collection is important to security, but it mustn’t go too far. She has since given her support to the USA FREEDOM Act and its limits on bulk data collection. In the wake of San Bernardino, Clinton was lukewarm and noncommittal; she optimistically proposed a public-private compromise in the FBI-Apple fight. She has since said that companies shouldn’t be forced to comply but should want to help law enforcement. She also supports the idea of a national public-private commission on digital security and encryption to develop solutions that help law enforcement whilst protecting individuals. It is worth noting, however, that while she is against government-mandated backdoors, she has supported a “Manhattan-like project” to aid law enforcement in the development of tools to break encryption. Finally, while Clinton doesn’t condone Snowden’s methods of leaking information, she respects that whistleblowers may be entitled to legal protection. That being said, Snowden broke the law by revealing government secrets—by some estimates, he is guilty of treason—and has therefore forfeited any legal protection. Thus, according to Clinton, if Snowden wishes to return the United States, he must face prosecution.

Jill Stein

Jill Stein’s cyber policies are noticeably limited. Stein holds the most idealistic position on cyberwarfare. Rather than focus on building national cyberdefense, Stein wants to upgrade the national internet infrastructure. More broadly, Stein wants to end all cyberwarfare via new international treaties, and she wants to establish a special United Nations agency to identify sources of cyberattacks. Stein, again, holds the most idealistic position regarding China and Russia. She is interested in cooperating with China and Russia to reduce weapons proliferation. More broadly, she wants to promote and achieve global demilitarization. Stein is totally against the privatization of the internet, and she has committed herself to preserving internet freedom.

Stein’s domestic positions feature cyber issues somewhat more prominently, though her positions are mostly superficial. She supports net neutrality in her push to curb the privatization of the internet. Also, she opposes bulk data collection and supports policies protecting personal privacy. She has voiced opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act, too. Stein has argued that encryption is important to maintain personal privacy and supported Apple following the San Bernardino attack. Finally, regarding Snowden, Stein supports a full, immediate pardon. She places higher value on Snowden’s revelations than the consequences resulting from them.


Check in again for part two where we examine Donald Trump and Gary Johnson’s positions on cyber issues.