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Trump’s Presidency Raises Encryption and Surveillance Fears

The Trump presidency could lead to a stand-off with China over cyber espionage, increasing pressure on Silicon Valley companies to break encryption, and a restoration of the Patriot Act, according to a leading think tank's summary of his election campaign.

The Washington-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)’s briefing document on Trump’s technology and innovation policy makes for pretty grim reading for supporters of human rights and international diplomacy.

It reminds us of the former reality TV star’s promise to unilaterally apply tariffs against China if it “fails to stop illegal activities” and to “adopt a zero tolerance policy on intellectual property theft.”

That could lead to problems for US companies – especially Apple, Microsoft, Qualcomm and others – operating in the Middle Kingdom, who are likely to suffer severe reprisals if this happens.

Although presidents Obama and Xi signed an agreement promising neither side would engage in state-sponsored ‘economic’ espionage it’s still believed that this happens on the Chinese side.

There was also worrying news for Apple and others that have taken a stand against the authorities in rolling out end-to-end encryption to protect their users’ privacy.  

Trump has said in the past he fully agreed with the FBI’s attempts to force Apple into building a backdoor to allow access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone – he even called for a boycott of the firm.

Matt Little, VP of product at encryption company, PKWARE, said he hoped the private sector would be incentivized to invest in measures to protect itself.

“Before Trump won the election, the government proved time and time again that it is not capable of protecting its citizens or even itself from cyber-attacks,” he argued.

“The Trump administration needs to do the one thing the government is capable of doing: update regulation to allow private corporations to better protect themselves, even if these updates make it more difficult for the intelligence community to function.”

Related to this, Trump’s position on homeland security is also uncompromising, with previous statements claiming he wants to reintroduce the Patriot Act. There are real fears that Trump will oversee a massive expansion of surveillance operations in the US.

But perhaps the most worrying thing about the next four years is the fact that the man at the helm appears to have little appetite to engage in technology-related issues, and even claims there is no shortage of skilled STEM workers in the US.

The ITIF document had the following:

“During the campaign, President-elect Trump largely focused on issues other than technology and innovation policy. And when he spoke about the tech industry, his comments occasionally were critical. In general, there were few articulated policy positions, especially outside of the tax and trade area.”

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