Technology Voter Guide 2008: John McCain

Republican wants strong laws protecting children from sexual predators online. He also wants to keep Net connections tax-free.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
7 min read

In the last few days before November 4, taxes and the economy have become the most pressing topics of the 2008 presidential campaign.

John McCain

But knowing where the candidates stand on high-tech topics like digital copyright, surveillance, and Internet regulation can be revealing, which is why we've put together this 2008 Technology Voters' Guide.

Included are answers to questions we asked presidential candidates. We received replies from Republican Sen. John McCain, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, and independent candidate Ralph Nader.

Read on for responses from John McCain, or check out the rest of CNET News' election coverage.

Editors' note: This survey was first published by CNET News in January.

Q: Politicians have been talking for years about the need for high-speed Internet access. Should this be accomplished primarily through deregulation and market forces, or should the federal government give out grants or subsidies, or enact new laws?
McCain: I believe that we must promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher-quality services for consumers and encourage the rapid deployment of new technologies.

I have been a leading advocate in the Senate for seeking market-based solutions to increasing broadband penetration. We should place the federal government in the role of stimulator, rather than regulator, of broadband services, remove state and local barriers to broadband deployment, and facilitate deployment of broadband services to rural and underserved communities.

Congress has considered Net neutrality legislation, but it never became law. Do you still support the legislation that was re-introduced in 2007 (S 215), which gives the FCC the power to punish "discriminatory" conduct by broadband providers?
McCain: In general, I believe that we need to move to a different model for enforcing competition on the Internet. Its focus should be on policing clearly anticompetitive behavior and consumer predation. In such a dynamic and innovative setting, it is not desirable for regulators to be required to anticipate market developments, intervene in the market, and try to micromanage American business and innovation.

Telecommunications companies such as AT&T have been accused in court of opening their networks to the government in violation of federal privacy law. Do you support with intelligence agencies or law enforcement, which was proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee this fall (S 2248)?
McCain: The struggle against Islamic fundamentalism is the transcendent foreign-policy challenge of our time. I am committed to winning this battle, enhancing the stature of the United States as beacon of global hope, and to preserving the personal, economic, and political freedoms that are the proud legacy of the great sacrifices of our fathers.

Every effort in this struggle and other efforts must be done according to American principles and the rule of law. When companies provide private records of Americans to the government without proper legal subpoena, warrants, or other legal orders, their heart may be in the right place, but their actions undermine our respect for the law.

I am also a strong supporter of protecting the privacy of Americans. The issues raised by S 2248, and the events and actions by all parties that the preceded it, reach to the core of our principles. They merit careful and deliberate consideration, fact-finding, and exploration of options. That process should be allowed to proceed before drawing conclusions that may prove to be premature.

If retroactive immunity passes, it should be done with explicit statements that this is not a blessing, there should be oversight hearings to understand what happened, and Congress should include provisions that ensure that Americans' private records will not be dealt with like that again.

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act's section restricting the "circumvention" of copy protection measures is supported by many copyright holders but has been criticized by some technologists as hindering innovation. Would you support changing the DMCA to permit Americans to make a single backup copy of a DVD, Blu-ray Disc DVD, HD DVD, or video game disc they have legally purchased?
McCain: The Internet and digital technology have provided widespread access to enormous quantities of information. This, in turn, made it necessary to update our copyright laws in 1998 to protect the rights of copyright holders to keep pace with the technological advances that characterize the Information Age.

As digitization of commerce, education, entertainment, and a host of other online applications proceeds, international copyright agreements have to be maintained and updated while protecting the rights of copyright owners.

I believe now, as I did then, that knowledge and ideas are central parts of what make the U.S. economy productive and competitive. It is vital that this intellectual property be protected and defended. However, we must ensure that such protections are never so onerous as to stifle the very innovation they strive to safeguard.

The Department of Homeland Security has proposed extensive Real ID requirements restricting which state ID cards can be accepted at federal buildings and airports. Do you support those regulations as written, would you want to repeal Real ID, or would you prefer something in between?
McCain: The 9/11 Commission recommended that the federal government set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's licenses. Consistent with these recommendations, the Real ID act established federal guidelines to prevent fraud in the issuance and acquisition of identity documents. I support full implementation of Real ID but understand that states need to be given enough time and funding to implement the requirements.

The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing the proposed merger of Google and DoubleClick. Some members of Congress have raised privacy concerns, while others have said the deal should proceed. What are your views? (Editors' note: We posed this question before the FTC gave the merger unconditional approval on December 20.)

McCain: It is premature to draw conclusions on this specific transaction, prior to the conclusion of the FTC review. I am, however, a vocal advocate of antitrust laws and ensuring that antitrust agencies have the resources they need to protect the competitiveness of the American economy.

Although I support the oversight capacity of the U.S. Congress, I believe that oversight should not be confused with the micromanagement of individual regulatory decisions and processes. I have encouraged the FTC to investigate this and other important mergers carefully to ensure the interests of competitiveness.

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about sex offenders using social-networking sites. What, if any, new federal laws are needed in this area?
McCain: The Internet has a dark side--it can expose children to obscene, graphic, and violent content. Government must develop solutions that balance civil liberties against the compelling interest to protect the innocence of our children.

While the first line of defense will always involve responsible parents, when it comes to protecting children, government must not shrink from its responsibilities. One thing that must be absolutely clear is that child pornographers and those who would prey on children will find no quarter in the darker recesses of the Internet. Government must implement and aggressively enforce laws to hunt down and jail peddlers of child pornography and sexual predators who stalk children on the Net.

This is why I have long fought to keep the Internet safe for our children...(and) recently sponsored the Safe Act of 2007, designed to clarify and enhance the current system for electronic-service providers to report online child pornography, and make the failure to report child pornography a federal crime.

I have also aggressively sought to curtail the online activities of sex offenders by sponsoring legislation to ensure that such criminals register additional information such as e-mail addresses on sex offender registries.

The Bush administration has supported legally requiring Internet service providers, and perhaps search engines and social-networking Web sites as well, to keep logs on who their users are and what they do. Do you support federal legislation, such as HR 837, to mandate data retention?
McCain: I continue to study the legislation in particular and the issue in general. It is apparent that some well-informed analysts in the ISP, tech, and privacy communities are skeptical of the feasibility and value of this proposal.

At the same time, other interested parties, such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, support the approach taken in the legislation. I understand both perspectives, believe that further study and alternative proposals are worth exploring, and look forward to finding the best path forward for all those involved.

Do you support enacting federal laws providing for any or all of the following: a) a permanent research-and-development tax credit, b) a permanent moratorium on Internet access taxes, and c) an increase in the current limits on H-1B visas?
McCain: We stand on the threshold of a new era: the innovation age. New information and communications technologies are the leading edge of technology innovations that will permeate every aspect of our society, and I am committed to federal policies that ensure America's competitive edge in technology and innovation. Maintaining our tech edge requires robust basic research and sustained development efforts.

I will support innovation by funding basic research, and reforming and making permanent the R&D tax credit. My leadership first kept the Internet tax-free, I recently sponsored legislation that extended that tax ban for seven years, and I .

I continue to be a strong supporter of H-1B expansion, but mere expansion is not enough. Reforms should eliminate the artificial limits and allow the Department of Labor to set a level of visas appropriate for market conditions.

We have to know: what's your favorite gadget?
McCain: My slim, stylish gold Razr phone and I are inseparable.