Presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain, sometimes criticized for admitting to not using the Internet much, flexed his technology credentials while outlining his opinions about online security and privacy on Thursday.
While such issues are unlikely to be the ones to sway voters to one candidate or another, they could have an affect on national security and on day-to-day life for many Americans. "Whether it sways votes or not, privacy and security are two critical issues we face," said Chris Ridder, a residential fellow at Stanford Law school's center for Internet and society.
McCain said that an effective combination of consumer education, technological innovation and increased law enforcement, plus industry self-regulation will support "personal security for Americans in the digital age." Unless people feel confident that they can use technology safely, the potential economic and societal benefits of technology are at risk, he said in a statement.
The candidates shouldn't just be talking about these issues as a way to appeal to people concerned about them; the government does have an important role to play in online security, Ridder said. "The government sees cybersecurity as a national security issue and an infrastructure issue and I think it's tremendously important not only from a military perspective but also from keeping people safe from crime," he said.
The recent conflict in Georgia, which has included cyberattacks, highlights the importance of online security. "I think we're seeing pretty much any military engagement will have some sort of cyber-components," Ridder said. "Any president who wants to emphasize military credentials ought to be concerned with protecting this critical infrastructure."
While McCain emphasized the role of industry self-regulation to promote security and privacy for online users, that's a method to be used carefully, Ridder said. "There needs to be a critical look at the evidence and see where [self-regulation] is working and where it's not and where it's not there is room for appropriate privacy regulations," he said.
Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee who is often thought to be more tech-savvy than his rival, has also posted on his Web site a more detailed outline then McCain's of his plans for Internet security and privacy. He emphasized the need to build protections against the misuse of sensitive information such as health records and location data. He also said he wants to update surveillance laws so that law enforcement agents can only gather data about citizens according to the law.
Obama also pledged to secure databases of information about people so that terrorists can't steal the data and misuse it. Currently, the government is one of the largest sources of data breaches, Ridder said.