Hillary Clinton cosies up to Silicon Valley

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez August 28, 2014
Summary:
The former US Secretary of State has defended the reputation of the Silicon Valley giants and has also voiced support for immigration reform, a popular topic within the tech community.

[sws_grey_box box_size="690"] SUMMARY - The former US Secretary of State has defended the reputation of the Silicon Valley giants that have suffered as a result of the PRISM revelations and has also voiced support for immigration reform, a popular topic within the tech community. [/sws_grey_box]

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has jumped to the defence of the US technology giants that have taken a hit to their reputation following the

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Snowden revelations and is cosying up to Silicon Valley ahead of the 2016 presidential election, for which she is widely expected to announce her candidacy for the Democrats.

The importance of the support of Silicon Valley is obviously not lost on Mrs Clinton, as it wasn't lost on her husband during his presidency, as she took time to discuss a wide range of hot topics on stage at the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit in San Francisco this week. She has also booked a number of other speaking slots during conference season in Silicon Valley this year – just as a side note.

Her discussion this week concluded with a standing ovation from the audience – so Mrs Clinton is obviously hitting the right notes.

According to a number of reports, Clinton spent time discussing the need for a “global compact” on surveillance and data collection by government agencies, but insisted that this would take time. She also noted, however, that US tech companies are bearing the brunt of blame and have suffered the most damage following the revelations about the NSA's PRISM programme, stating that this isn't entirely fair given the US isn't the only country doing this.

Music to their ears, I'm sure. Tech companies in the US, especially the dominant cloud providers, have had months of having to defend their security protocols and explain in detail how they work with government agencies. Clinton said:

The U.S. government doesn't use information for commercial purposes [whilst others do]

We need to make it clear to other countries that our technology companies are not part of our government, and that we have more legal processes than any other country that I'm aware of [governing requests for information]

Clinton did, however, acknowledge that the NSA has been pushing the boundaries of what is appropriate and has been testing the “inevitable tension” between privacy and security. She said:

There's no doubt we may have gone too far in a number of areas, and that those have to be rethought and we have to rebalance. The [NSA] didn't, so far as we know, cross legal lines, but they came right up and sat on them.

The technology community has been extremely vocal in speaking out against the PRISM programme and has made efforts to appease public concern, by introducing things such as transparency reports on government requests. The revelations have also encouraged a significant amount of cross-company cooperation to put pressure on the government to be transparent about how it is collecting, storing and analysing data.



Mrs Clinton's defence of technology companies in the US will no doubt be welcomed. She also took the opportunity to take a swipe at China and Russia,

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which she said were so sophisticated in their data spying that when US officials travelled to the countries they couldn't carry any electronics. Clinton said:

Every time I went to countries like China or Russia, I mean, we couldn't take our computers, we couldn't take our personal devices, we couldn't take anything off the plane, because they're so good, they would penetrate them in a minute.

During the session Clinton also praised Silicon Valley experts for helping to fix the disastrous Healthcare.gov and admitted that federal government is “woefully behind” on how it uses the latest technologies. She also mentioned that although the US has “lost the historic link between productivity gains and wage gains that people can actually see”, there is an opportunity via cloud computing and big data to bring strong growth back to the United States economy.

Clinton said that the US is home to one third of all data across the globe and that using it smartly could bring huge productivity gains and be a “major competitive advantage”.

However, one other area that Clinton touched on that will please the US tech companies is immigration reform. Obama is currently in the process of reworking the H-1B visa requirements, in the hope that companies will get access to the international skills and talent that they need. For example, the US issues 140,000 employment visas each year, but this number currently includes spouses. It is expected that the number will be doubled to allow for spouses, giving companies access to double the amount of international talent.

Clinton expressed her support for immigration reform, but also noted that companies should be trying their best to fill job spaces with people living in the US already. She said:

Given the Great Recession and the fact that so many people lost jobs across the economy, including in the tech field, there has to be an extra effort made to try to fill jobs with people who are already here.

"They can be either native-born or immigrant, but already here, so that then if that's not possible, you have a good-faith argument that you

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tried.

Verdict

When I see these politicians engaging with Silicon Valley I'm always reminded of an episode of Veep (yes, I know I love quoting Veep) where one of Vice President Selina Meyer's advisors warns her when talking to the young techies at a fictional web giant, by saying: “These idiots are the internet!”.

In other words, be careful what you say because these people in Silicon Valley have an awful lot of power and sway. I'm sure Mrs Clinton is very much aware of that (especially if she does have plans to become the next president of the United States).