For the second time in two weeks Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for the presidential nomination, is weighing in on the contentious skirmish between the government and the tech industry, most recently over encryption. She is imploring Silicon Valley tech titans to join the fray against ISIS, calling them the “most effective recruiter in the world” and who use Internet technology to advance their agenda.
Going to the heart of the Internet industry, trying to cajole and enlist them is a risky campaign strategy, because she needs the industry’s financial support as she seeks to replace the massive funding from Wall Street, which she is beginning to campaign against for political reasons. It’s tough to rail against big banks when you’re dipping your beak at their trough, so Silicon Valley beckons as a likely alternative. Clinton certainly knows where her bread is buttered! She’s a bit late to the party in confronting the tech companies, though, as the dialogue has been ongoing for more than a year. But it makes good campaign sense, given the climate today.
It also makes good sense because the tech industry is a facilitator that has aided the growth of start-ups like Uber, which is now worth more than Ford ,GM Motors, or Airbnb, and is worth 25 times more than, say, the Hyatt Hotel chain. If ISIS is effectively using technology from an industry she deems “the great disrupters,” to successfully recruit, why can’t the same technology to “disrupt ISIS”? If the Internet has spawned a communication revolution, maybe it can be directed at the fanatics to hasten their demise?
HRC’s comments reflect a change in rhetoric, if not in attitude or posture, by both the Democratic candidate and the incumbent in the White House. Heretofore, they attempted to bludgeon Silicon Valley into submission regarding things like encryption and backdoor accessibility. The new approach now is likely to be more cordial and conciliator,y with the hope that it may get them on-board the anti-terrorism tiff.
But if she hopes that a charm-offensive will succeed where combativeness failed, Clinton may be surprised at the reticence of an industry bathed in First Amendment protection, and wary of losing its customers, its lifeblood, to complicity with the government. It will bend, perhaps, when it comes to posting gruesome beheadings or incendiary comments, but they are not inclined to limit other kinds of free speech which law enforcement says are recruiting propaganda. And their stance on easing encryption appears to be non- negotiable.
Clinton’s latest overture, like much of her public life, is fraught with flip-flopping on issues as it suits her audience, and her present situation. In the past, she has been an advocate of programs that expanded user’s rights and support means of circumventing censorship. So it is curious that she now court the tech industry in a bid to get them to bend to the government’s current whim. But, then again, given the nature of politics and the current climate, it’s understandable, if not to be condoned.