Technology Voters' Guide: John Edwards

Former senator aims for universal broadband, supports Net neutrality, and pledges to "recharge" American innovation. Special coverage: Election 2008

Declan McCullagh
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.
7 min read
Iraq, immigration, taxes, and health care probably have been the four most pressing topics of the 2008 presidential campaign. Technology has made nary an appearance.

Sure, there have been the YouTube-ified debates, MySpace.com polls, record-setting fund-raising efforts, and the now-obligatory Google office visits.

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

In late November, we sent questionnaires to the top candidates--measured by funds raised and poll standings--from each major party. We asked each the same 10 questions.

Not all candidates chose to respond: Republicans Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson rebuffed our requests, as did Democrats Joe Biden and Bill Richardson. In all such cases, we made repeated efforts to try to convince them to change their minds.

Read on for responses from former Sen. John Edwards, or check out CNET News.com's election coverage roundup, featuring other Technology Voters' Guide candidate reports.

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?
Edwards: There should be no neighborhoods in America where the lights of the Internet are not on. Yet--partly because we have never had a national broadband strategy--the country that developed the Internet is now 16th in broadband deployment, and America's competitiveness has suffered. The spread of broadband has been uneven and costly, too driven by the profits of a few entrenched companies and technologies to allow the nation as a whole to realize the billions in economic benefits promised by truly universal Internet access.

As president, I will set a goal of giving all U.S. homes and businesses access to real high-speed Internet by 2010. I will establish a national broadband map to identify gaps in availability, price, and speed. I will also create public-private partnerships to promote deployment and require providers not to discriminate against rural and low-income areas. I will work to improve Internet accessibility for people with disabilities. I believe we need to improve the e-rate program with a goal of universally wired schools.

Since achieving truly universal broadband will require every tool at our disposal, I will also encourage local service providers and municipal wireless projects, and use the newly available 700MHz spectrum and broadcast television white spaces to support wireless networks that can connect with all digital devices.

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?
Edwards: In May, I--like thousands of citizens--wrote a letter to the FCC urging them to guarantee Net neutrality. I believe that if we do not guarantee Net neutrality--and at the same time meet the goal of universal broadband access--the Internet could go the way of network television and commercial radio--with just a few loud corporate voices and no room for the grassroots and small entrepreneurs. Our country is already divided enough between the haves and have-nots. Where we go to school, where (and whether) we get health care, whether we can retire with dignity--we have big divides in all of these areas in this country.

While we work to create One America, we should not allow the Internet to be divided or corporate censorship to take root. That would make the other important work we have to do that much harder. The Internet is not the answer to everything, but it can powerfully accelerate the best of America. It improves our democracy by making quiet voices loud, improves our economy by making small markets big, and improves opportunity by making unlikely dreams possible.

As president, I will do several things to encourage innovation and neutrality online. First, I will ensure that the FCC preserves free expression and competition on the Internet by enforcing Net neutrality, ensuring no degradation or blocking of access to Web sites. I will also bring the Carterfone interoperability rule to wireless so that Americans can connect any device or applications to their wireless service, just as they can to their landline phone service.

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 giving them retroactive immunity for any illicit cooperation with intelligence agencies or law enforcement, which was proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee this fall (S 2248)?
Edwards: The American people deserve to know about President Bush's illegal spying on Americans. Providing big telecom companies retroactive immunity would mean that the facts about these abuses will never come out in court. Congress should stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law by rejecting any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecom companies.

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?
Edwards: While I am not convinced that allowing backup copies is the best reform for consumers or content producers, I do believe that our intellectual property laws and regulations should better balance the industry's legitimate concerns over piracy with common-sense consumer freedoms. Fortunately, consumer demand and innovation are starting to lead the way. Key industry leaders have recognized the limitations of digital rights management technology. One role for government regulation may be better rules governing disclosure, so that people are aware, before they purchase digital media products, of the limitations imposed on their use.

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?
Edwards: Real ID is a big step toward a national ID card, and it will open the door to government invasions of privacy and to identity theft. I support setting rigorous state standards for ID cards to keep terrorists and criminals from getting false identification. However, we need a system that protects the privacy of regular Americans and doesn't cost states $11 billion.

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.)
Edwards: The fact is that Internet tracking technologies have become more powerful than most Americans understand or expect, and our privacy laws and regulations have failed to keep pace. The Federal Trade Commission should use its power to demand that the Google/DoubleClick merger include strong privacy protections for consumers. But this issue is much larger than one merger. The FTC also has the power to issue robust privacy standards for the many growing industries that profit from collecting Americans' personal information online. From behavioral marketing and data mining to identity theft and security breaches, Americans deserve a government that is willing to take on the corporate interests to defend their right to privacy, even as new technologies unfold.

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?
Edwards: I support legislation such as the Combating Child Exploitation Act, which would give law enforcement agencies the tools they need--such as more trained federal agents and improved computer forensic labs--to investigate and prosecute Internet crimes against children.

I also believe that social-networking sites can do more to protect their users. For example, Facebook.com and the New York State attorney general have developed a model partnership for protecting young Web site users. Under their agreement, Facebook will enforce mutually agreed upon safety regulations that include responding to any complaint within 24 hours. They will also allow a third-party examiner to monitor their response to complaints about harassment and inappropriate material. I believe that businesses, parents, and the government have a shared responsibility to protect our children online, and I will support initiatives like these as president.

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?
Edwards: I strongly support giving law enforcement the tools it needs to prevent and respond swiftly to illegal acts online. As a parent of two young children, I take the dangers of child exploitation seriously and personally. But I do not believe that having the government force Internet companies to keep logs on regular Americans' online activity--beyond these companies' already extensive data retention--is necessary or wise. This administration has fully demonstrated how government can overreach, violating Americans' privacy as well as the law. As president, I will strive to keep Americans safe, and do so in a way that repairs the trust relationship between the president and the American people.

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?
Edwards: As part of my plan to recharge American innovation, I have proposed making the research and development tax credit--as well as the renewable production tax credit to usher in a new energy economy--permanent. In the Senate, I voted to extend the moratorium on Internet access taxes.

Guest workers may be necessary to America's economy where there are worker shortages. However, I will eliminate abuses of the program by strengthening labor law enforcement, and by requiring employers to demonstrate that they could not recruit American workers and that they pay the prevailing wage. I will also increase the employer fee in the H-1B visa program, with the resources continuing to support science and math education because we must prepare more Americans for high-paying jobs of the future.

We have to know: what's your favorite gadget?
Edwards: I run every day, so my iPod Nano is my favorite and most well-worn gadget.