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Tech and the Obama presidencyCNET News chief political correspondent Declan McCullagh joins Brian Tong to answer your questions and discuss political issues regarding technology, from the economy to President-elect Barack Obama's next tech-related steps.
[ Music ] ^M00:00:06 >> Alright, welcome guys, good afternoon. It's Editors Office Hours. You know what time it is? It's 11:30 West Coast, 2:30 p.m. East Coast time. I'm joined here today with Mr. Declan McCullagh. He is our chief political correspondent at CNET. Thanks for coming out again. >> Anytime. >> Alright, and today we do a few different things. I know you guys are used to talk about gadgets but today is really unique and cool because we can really talk about technology and politics, really emerging two things that you may not talk about but actually does have an effect on you. But it's also kind of interesting just to throw around and see the angles of how technology can be shaped or, you know, shifted through, you know, political policy and what not, and also with the new president-elect Obama. That's something that we'll be talking about as well. So first of all, we know this show is all about you. Down below as we have our little chat box, we can interact you to everyone else that is involved here. If you want to ask us questions, come up here on the right-hand box, you can submit a question, just create a user profile. If you don't have one already, we just ask for username, password, e-mail address, easy like that, and send us your questions so we can have stuff to talk about. But if not, I mean, we can talk about whatever we want and not what you guys want. So, Declan, I guess one of the things that I kinda want to start off to talk about is we hear this term called net neutrality thrown all over the place like what's gonna happen, you know, and people talk about it like everyone knows about it already, but not many people really knows exactly what it is. So in your best words, [laughter] how would you explain net neutrality to people that are watching or even someone like my mom? >> Sure, I mean it's one of these really vague concepts. There's no generally accepted definition of what it is. It's like talking about freedom. It doesn't mean the freedom to be guaranteed a job in which case someone has to pay higher taxes or is that if we're gonna pay lower taxes. There's no commonly accepted definition. One of them would be "Thou shall not block certain sites". If you're AT&T you can't block access to Google.com, but AT&T is going to. They are absolutely not going to, but that's one of the easier calls. The better -- or the more difficult call and the more difficult definition is does that mean that -- let's use the wireless context, does that mean that AT&T Wireless can say "You can't use peer to peer networks" because they basically clogged the wireless networks and the legitimate stuff like text messages or even maybe audio calls can't go through. This is actually what AT&T says, and Verizon Wireless has similar restrictions. Is that good, bad, it should have been legal, should be illegal, should we have a new law giving the federal communications commission a bunch of Unelected Bureaucrats in Washington, the ability to say "This business model is good, this business model is not". I mean "We're gonna find you and we're gonna have you drag you before this kangaroo court if we don't like it". And so the bottom line is that the net neutrality debate in Washington peaked about 2 years ago and now Comcast got in trouble for blocking and/or throttling BitTorrent transfers and the FCC slapped them. Comcast said "Actually, you don't have the authority to do this." Comcast took their arguments to what's called the DC circuit or federal appeals court, and everyone is sort of waiting to see what's happens in that respect. >> So, basically if in order to say essentially that internet has been, when it's neutral, there hasn't been regulations on what access you can get to certain sites or, you know, what type of downloads you can get pass or like you said throttling down. BitTorrent has actually affected someone's bandwidth where previously before we had to start dealing with these things, everything was kind of free for all, just do what you got, do what you wanna do. But the issue is now, you have companies that are trying to, I guess not discriminate but decide what areas of internet you can, I guess, can imagine whether it's speed or access to in trying to define those lines? >> Discrimination is not always a bad word. [ Laughter ] There's -- We discriminate when we're hiring employees here at CNET or CBS. We say that this person is going to be able to do the job and this person can't. We discriminate against these people. We discriminate against different brands of bottled water. We discriminate against different brands of computers. Some is in favor of one or the other. So discrimination is not always bad. The broader point is we have these pipes some or has one senator would like to call them tubes, and they are only certain -- there they're only this wide. And so, if this much traffic is trying to go through them, what do you do? Do you say each person has cups, do you charge people by the bite, do you charge -- do you do say that you can have all you can eat during certain periods as you block certain protocols. So, this is what different broadband providers are trying to do and there's really not one solution yet. I mean we're still pretty early on in the development of video online in really high bandwidth use online. And so, we'll see how that plays out. And in terms of president-elect Obama, he said to us, I talked to him in his campaign for voters, I think it was last December, and this is almost a year ago and he said that he was, I think the phrase was "We'll take a backseat to nobody" in terms of his support for net neutrality. But again, the details matter. It's easy to say I support net neutrality, I mean who doesn't, AT&T and Verizon say they support net neutrality. It's when you have to write a specific piece of legislation that gives power to the FCC to do certain things maybe inside business models. It becomes much more difficult and this will be one of the challenges for president-elect Obama. >> Okay, cool. So, hopefully we helped that a little bit so you guys know. Just other things with obviously new president-elect Obama, his take and the people that he surrounds himself with how that rule really affect technology. And on your blog, we should talk about it, the iconoclast class, what's the link I guess -- >> Well, if you go to news.cnet.com/the-iconoclast, so that will be the direct link, or you can get to it just by going in news.com which redirects. >> Okay excellent. And so, I guess Obama team has named some of his transitional -- or leaders in his transition team to help review the different groups or specifically the FCC? Is that correct? >> Yeah. I mean we're still less than 2 weeks now from the election. And so, the economy transition team is going to be more important than who heads the FCC, most presidents I believe. >> Yeah. >> That's about the FFC. George Bush certainly didn't. At least it wasn't a priority for him. And so, we do have some inkling of who is going to be part of the transition team and to some extent, it's kind of who you would expect. One person who is at the FCC under Clinton, other person who work for Al Gore in the Clinton administration. And so, we're seeing what you might expect. It's sort of politics as usual in DC so far. It's for flip flopping. Republicans had it for 8 years and now a lot of Clinton folks over half of Obama's people so far had positions in one sort or another in the Clinton administration. >> Okay, so it's really getting this, you know, techy sides to be part of this process, it's not just an indication of because, you know, internet and technology has continued to be more and more prevalent that some of their, I guess, experience and influences will help aid in this process a little easier, make it a little smoother? Or not really? [ Laughter ] >> It's too early to say. We're still at the beginning part of the process in terms of the tech transition. A lot of people in the tech industry are participating just because they think it will be fun, and this is -- it's kind of interesting to say and the President would like to see you with the White House next week for a round table in technology. There's -- I think that probably what we have to wait for is when Obama appoints the CTO. That will give us the best glimpse yet at where he wants to go. Is it going to be someone inside Washington, a former FCC or which is probably the most we are betting on that, or is it going to be someone out here in Silicon Valley who doesn't have that Washington insider experience but has to be a better grasp with technology. >> Now, when I first read about that having a Chief Technology Officer, this may sound dumb coming from me, but would that be the first chief technology officer position as a cabinet member or not? I don't know this but I was just curious? >> It wouldn't be a cabinet member position, but it would be part of the White House. Well, let's look at what Clinton and Bush did. The closest equivalent you might have had to someone like this could have been Iron Magazine [phonetic] or in the Clinton administration, I remember interviewing him in his old executive office building, sort of in the White House complex right next to the executive mansion itself and he had corner office and did a lot of internet regulatory sort of ICANN Domain Name, Policy, this is what he was tasked with after doing healthcare effort. And so, he wasn't called a CTO, it was the interpol who is now as important than it is now arguably, but that sort of what the Clinton administration had. And then there's also some of the FCC appoint with a similar role. Under Bush, it was more handed off to the Department of Homeland Security. You have the assistant secretary for cyber security, and you have also a CIO council, a Chief Information Officer Council, as the chair of the council. So, there are people who are tasked with this sort of tech information technology roles but they are a little more spread out. And what Obama says is that he wants to centralize this, sometimes centralization works, sometimes it doesn't. We'll find out in a year or two. >> Okay, okay, excellent. >> Now, one thing that I found kind of interesting reading the iconoclast blog was Obama has said he will be delivering weekly addresses to the nations over at YouTube. So, this is kind of a take on Franklin Roosevelt's far sight chats back. I think it was like the '30s or '40s, I guess the 30's and now it's kind of the updated tech version. It's the, you know, next generation's version. What's your take on that? >> Well the -- >> Do you think it's goofier, do you think it's cool or? >> These are done in advance. They're highly scripted. >> Yeah, yeah. >> The last few presidents both major parties have used their chats or sorry, their radio addresses just sort of pushed whatever they wanna do next in the next week, or reinforce positions they have taken in the last week and so. Instead of just having a microphone in front of the president, you're gonna put the microphone in the video camera. I don't see this as being especially revolutionary. I think it's a nice example but I don't know there's that much of a difference between putting it up on YouTube and a few other websites as well versus just putting up an MP3 file. What matters more than sort of, symbols and this is nicely symbolical substance and I wanna see where the president stand on taxes, I wanna see where he stands on things like bail outs, and why should GM, a failing company, get a bail out when we have companies out here in Silicon Valley that it could certainly use a few tens of billions of dollars. But they are not going to get it. It's basically sort of whoever has the most politically effective industries, hire the best lobbyist, gets the bail out. And so, policies are more important than symbolism, I think. >> Now also, at least for the younger generation, you kind of at least touch on this with these addresses, things that if they're highly scripted, I don't think younger people will care because -- or just people in general, we were to kind of tired of seeing things that's scripted, you know. We've been kind of so used to the whole not good thing about it but the whole reality TV generation that we wanna see things that are more real, and so -- or at least come up more real so if it just like a set can speech that comes on every week which, you know, essentially will lead talking about -- [ Simultaneous Talking ] >> That's exactly what we're talking about, you know. >> Yeah I don't -- like you said, I don't see how it can be that interesting. I think it's cool but at least we would have -- it can make it a little more compelling for someone to like "Well, oh, I'll see what Obama said." But if it becomes something like that weekly, who knows if it will be even semi engaging, if it would be like one or two kind of open-ended questions, then it might be more interesting. But other than that if it's kind of how you say, it wouldn't be it -- >> If it's someone is tricking into a telephone for 5 minutes, very few people are gonna be that entertaining. So, it looked like telephone -- >> Yeah, I've heard about that on my videos already. So, I'm on working on that. >> For 5 minutes droning on about government policies, and there are much more interesting person than those politicians. But -- >> Oh thanks, Declan. >> Anytime, but there are ways to enlighten this. That would be to do things like similar to what we're doing here or cousin of it which is just take questions and you're really not gonna bet them. You're not going to have them and especially incendiary ones makes their way through the process. But that would be one way to do it. But I think this is just basically a video version of the -- a weekly radio address that is highly scripted. And into some extent, that's what you want if the goal is to get your message out. But there are plenty of opportunities for someone who understands technology to do more interesting things. >> Okay, well you know what guys, I'm so sorry my page wasn't refreshing and I literally had thought we had no questions. >> Oh no! >> We have tons of questions. >> Let's get to them. >> So, we're gonna skip quite of a quaint of the videos. I'll just refresh it. We literally have like 15 or 20 questions. So, we'll just take this on the fly and whether we have an answer for you or not, we'll just go with it. We'll kind of rewind a little bit and this question is from donsms. He asked, do you think net neutrality will be high on Obama's list of things that need to be addressed? >> Oh, let's talk about that briefly because we already went through a bit of it. >> Uh-huh. >> The answer is no. The things -- what are the top issues? I mean it's the economy, it's the economy, it's the economy. It's Iraq. It's Afghanistan. It's healthcare. It's eliminating the secret ballot for unions at least that's what you mean, want them to do. I mean these are the top 8 issues maybe. But I think net neutrality in internet that stuff would be maybe more 10 to 20 if you had to rank the issue. So, they'll get there but keep in mind that Nancy Pelosi said when the republicans controlled the House 2 years ago, that we absolutely need net neutrality. This is something that's vital to the future of the internet and I wrote a story about that and you can search for Pelosi and probably with my name Declan in politicalnews.com [phonetic]. And she's been in control of the House for 2 years and she's unprecisely nothing about net neutrality. And so, I think that some of the fuzz over net neutrality has probably gone away and we're waiting to see what happens if the courts let the FCC get away with slapping down Comcast. So, probably not number 1 but if the FCCs -- if the court says "FCC, you have no power to do this. Only if congress acts, you get the authority then we'll probably see congresses running pretty quickly." So, next question. >> Okay, next question. Now, this is two people kind of asked about this. I haven't read this yet so I don't know if it's a recently posted article, with the current news -- this is from PacGamer -- with the current news about Obama's attachment to technology, do you think that he will be able to let go of his BlackBerry? Enzanljuin also asked, what do you think about Obama having to give up his BlackBerry addiction? So what's the story about that? >> Well, the story is one that the New York Times run I think over the weekend saying that Obama is probably not gonna hold on to his BlackBerries. >> As much. >> Well, it is more like to -- >> Get rid of it? >> Exactly. Get rid off a part of him as President. And part of this is due to both open government laws like the Freedom of Information Act that say, you can, sort of, try arrest information out of the government. And the second is laws that might deal with presidential records. I think in reality, he probably could get away with keeping -- I mean there's no law saying that he has to -- that he can't just borrow and hates BlackBerry and use that on occasion for a personal business. But it does become problematic because have you differentiate what's personal and what's professional -- >> Even in the e-mail, half of it could be personal, half of it can be kind of professional and where do you draw that line of using it. >> It's a fund raising trip or fund raising e-mails, are these personal or are these professional. It becomes pretty tricky and he might be well advised to do it but if he really want to keep it, I mean he's president, he can probably find a way. [ Laughter ] >> That's true. He knows -- well, I don't know. He's the most powerful man in the world anymore. But the old title is --okay. This goes from Pac Gamer, do you think that Obama will use web 2.0 sites such as Twitter and Facebook to send out and spread information? What do you think about that? What did you change out there? >> The way how to answer it is is more like this, you have a president with a massive, huge, whopping database of supporters and the people who are willing to open up their wallets and give money to him. And the republicans had this. They didn't have maybe quite as detailed in a sense of a database but now, you have this president who seems to be constitutionally inclined to use the internet. And so, what are you gonna do? If you're -- lets' say you're president and you want to pressure some senators maybe because the democrats don't appear to have a filibuster-proof senate, you want to put the squeeze on say 3or 5 or 10 republican senators and maybe even some democrats who are holdouts. Then if you could use this database and say "I know I'm president now. Give me the e-mail address for the campaign and use Twitter and use the Facebook and use e-mail and use text messages to say contact your senator if you want to go to the states and we need to change his or her mind." That I haven't seen done before. That will be a very powerful way to do things. I don't see this f there is any law saying you can't use this database. At least I know of none. >> Okay. Here is a question from Enzanljuin asking what did you think about the changes to tech issues paged during the election? So, I'm assuming is he talking about when change.gov had kind of some information about how they were tech policy that they were kind of going to pursue where they takes on a minute essentially kind of went away. >> Yeah, it was last weekend. I think it was 8 days ago. The change.gov was sort of highly touted, oh, this is going to be the first website that was used during a presidential transition in 2000 and 2001. I think what we saw was not just no transition website and instead, President Bush got basically the keys to whitehouse.gov a few minutes after he took the oath of office in January. And so, there is no transition. This is kind of presence, it's interesting to see what's gonna happen. But anyway, the question was that tech issues page and a bunch of other pages including homeland security and healthcare. And so when we're posted on change.gov and then mysteriously disappeared, we asked them that we asked the Obama transition team what happened and they said "Oh, we're just doesn't revamping the page and didn't say why the pages were removed. >> Why -- >> I mean, was it because you post something on official.gov site that implies this is what you're going to do and we should take it seriously and then if it disappears, then what are we left to think. So, it is odd and maybe it's entirely innocent, maybe they're backing away from campaign promises, we don't know. >> Okay, excellent. Okay, this -- I guess we kind of crashed through most of the questions that we have. If you guys have any other ones, please send them our way. Here's another kind of story that was kind of made me chuckle but you actually wrote about where people that want to become potential aides for Obama actually have to disclose some of their personal information. Then this includes Facebook profiles, MySpace profiles, and just activity overall that they've done on the web, participating in blogs and stuff. So, you wrote about that and what's you're kind of take or some of the points that you pulled from that? >> Sure, this is a questionnaire that you have to fill out. It's very detailed. It includes dozens of questions if you want to apply for a job in Obama administration. And there are few things that are worth noting. The first is that it asks questions like the nanny question which brought down a few of President. Clinton as I believe, one of President Bush's nominee, basically people employing folks a document at immigrants maybe as household help, not paying their social security taxes, and going to a top position in the government. Well, probably forcing everyone else to pay social security taxes. And so, there's a beautiful hypocrisy there. But nevertheless, so part of what happens is that there is a scandal and then you want -- and then the next president uses that scandal asking on questions and to try to avoid that scandal heading to him in the future. Another point though is that -- the question was written by someone who does not seem to understand the internet very well. It asks for every single post that you've ever made to a blog or to comment on a blog and it does not sort of embarrassing post. It does not just send incendiary poster once to that might cast you where the president in the bad light and ask it for every single post. >> How are you gonna track that man? >> Exactly. I mean people who have been online for years, a decade or two. This is a little nutty. And so, this is Obama's sort of -- whether it may not meet reality here, although I can understand why they're doing it. And the other thing that was interesting is that they want URLs of "any website that features you in a personal or professional capacity" and that's list by name, MySpace and Facebook, but they're also asking for dating sites like match.com. >> Wow. >> That will be your personal capacity. And so, this is an interesting way to try to bet nominees. You can understand why they're doing it but, well, that's kind of intrusive. >> I mean how realistic can they really track this? Maybe like you said, it's part of the questionnaire process, but really to be able to pull -- no one could pull all that information up like every single basic fingerprint or little spread from the ELA [phonetic] phone internet. >> Not seriously. >> I don't see that. >> Well, and here is one more point. Folks who are filling these things out, I don't believe receive any explicit guarantee of confidentiality. And so, whoever reads this might know more about you than your spouse or your parents do. And we saw the Bush administration misused this. I think this was part of the BookAngler that recently came out about the Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney was running a VP search team for Bush the younger into 2000 and Cheney had all of these governors send in detailed information. I mean this is a box of documents. This is not just a questionnaire that's a few pages long. And then it was, I think he was the Governor of Oklahoma found that his very confidential kind of embarrassing information was leaked to the press. And the only person who could have done it was probably the vice president. And so, by far of filling out that kind of information or a very personal stuff, I would want an explicit guarantee of legally binding one and I don't see that one offered here. >> Okay, okay. Excellent. Alright. Let's see what else that we have. Someone's asking me a question about a laptop. It's actually karun.kumar and I don't know the price on the XPS M1330 right now but if you come back on Wednesday, I think, we'll talk about all those tech toys. They just want -- she was just wondering old MacBook Pro or a Dell XPS M1330. >> I'll go with the MacBook Pro. But that's what I'm using now so I'm bias. >> Yeah, I just have -- I don't know what the price on top of my head. And once you send me -- send me the price as it is and if you can get it within the next 2 minutes, I'll see what I can do for you. Okay, so here we go, just another thing that kind of a more recent article, Google being able to track flu trends. Can you talk about that? You wrote an article about how some privacy groups are like paranoid about this? >> Yeah, now the CDC compiles that is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention compile stats. It was one number per state showing it's something like the influenza related illnesses. And Google was using searches to compile and publishes similar stats. It's one number per state. When I wrote the article, Alaska's number was something like a 2 and California's number was probably 1. There might be more flu related illnesses going on Alaska. And so, you had a bunch of privacy groups including electronic information centers saying that this was perhaps privacy invasive wanting more information which is very odd because one number per state is hardly privacy invasive. Their ulterior mode is really to -- is not necessarily a bad one that they're trying to draw attention to the amount of data that Google collects and stores and says this how can be misused. The problem they have is that it's being misused in this case. Publishing the same information that the CDC, it does one number per state is not in any way privacy invasive. I can't see how it would be a sort of not even to say that it is. >> Yeah. >> But they're trying to draw attention to this and they would rather not have Google keep a search records at all even though the company may not be able to exist in this current form if it couldn't. >> Yeah, is it just a group being paranoid about this without even reading anything about how they pull these numbers? >> I don't know. I mean sometimes I'm not sure what's happening here. But non-profit groups have to get some attention in the press to these wonders and that this is one way to do it. I mean there are legitimate concerns about Google search logs that they kept it for say an indefinite number of years as they used to then that would be a problem. Now I can keep it for 9 months which is not so bad. >> Okay, cool. See that was just a little, sorry -- okay, here we go, karun I'm sorry. Karun wrote me that the DELL XPS M1330 cost 14.49. I'm guessing that's based on a configuration you set up because I would assume that the 13-inch -- the 1330 is the 13-inch and I know this is from their gaming laptop series. Now, the main thing to keep in mind is that the previous old MacBook that you're referring to, they don't -- the old MacBook Pro doesn't have the dedicated in video cards versus graphics card versus and the integrated one. So, essentially one of the big new features of the new MacBook Pros is the fact that you can take advantage of better graphics when using that dedicated card, whereas the XPS, my assumption is probably that it has a better video card burning it definitely compared to the previous MacBook Pro. So, gaming is really your priority then I would actually say go for the XPS if gaming is your priority because also it's a fresher newer model and the video cards on the earlier ones weren't as hot. So, those are two my sense on that one. Very political technology based. Mac and PC can be a political debate though. >> Do you think? >> People feel strongly about it. >> I never would have guess. Actually, we're telling you that Linux and Microsoft might be at odds. >> Oh man, that would be scary. Okay guys, it is 12 o'clock and thank you so much for coming out. Again, Editor's Office Hours, tomorrow we'll be coming out from New York City to NYC. We don't know for sure who the face will be yet. Justin Yu is scheduled to you but he's filling a little under the weather. So, if you don't know, Justin Yu checks out printers, hard drives, as well as the fact that he is one of the boys from our 404 podcast. Declan, thanks for coming out, hanging out with us. >> I'm always delighted to come over here. >> And again, the blog is the iconoclast. It's at news.cnet.com/the-iconoclast, correct? >> Exactly right. >> Okay, awesome guys. We'll see you guys here at least in San Francisco on Wednesday, otherwise come back next time 11:30 West Coast time, 2:30 East Coast time. Catch you later. ^M00:29:09 [ Music ]