Ten candidates have secured spots in the third debate in the Democratic presidential primary. September 12 in Houston will be the first time all of the leading candidates appear on stage together. While tech policy issues so far have not received significant attention in the primary race, the candidates have expressed a wide variety of positions on these issues.
Below is a summary of what ITIF considers some of the best and worst tech policy positions (so far) from each candidate, either from the campaign trail or their time in government. We selected the policies that, in our assessment, would do the most to either drive or deter technological innovation and adoption in the United States. On virtually all of these ideas, ITIF has weighed in on the merits of the policy, and we have included links below for more details.
Every candidate approaches policy issues differently in their campaign: Some of these ideas are documented in extensive, well-developed policy proposals; others are ideas that candidates have discussed during interviews or speeches; and some are ideas they supported before they entered the presidential race. The ideas are not necessarily exclusive to one candidate—and indeed, it would be a welcome development for more candidates to seize on the better ideas from their peers, improve on them, and promote them further. While tech issues may not be driving most voters to the polls, they will have a significant impact on the U.S. economy, including jobs and economic growth.
Did we miss something important? Is there another idea that candidates should be talking about? Send us your thoughts on the best or worst tech policy ideas in the Democratic presidential primary on Twitter using the hashtag .
Best: Former Vice President Biden has vowed to work with allies to “get tough on China and its trade and technology abuses,” including by pursuing and enforcing trade agreements similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to counter intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer. ITIF has analyzed this issue extensively and has concluded that stronger trade agreements will help respond to Chinese “innovation mercantilism,” which hurts U.S. innovation, creates unfair advantages for foreign firms, and undermines market-based competition.
Worst: Biden, while serving as a U.S. senator, supported a number of laws that would weaken individuals’ ability to communicate privately, including most notably the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which forces telecom carriers and equipment manufacturers to design their hardware and services to allow law enforcement surveillance. ITIF’s analysis is that forcing U.S. companies to implement backdoors in their hardware or software weakens the security of their products and makes U.S. companies less competitive.
Best: Senator Booker co-sponsored the bipartisan Developing and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act which seeks to establish a plan on how to encourage IoT development and deployment throughout the United States. ITIF’s Center for Data Innovation has documented how a national strategy for the Internet of Things can help ensure that the technology develops quickly, that consumers and businesses do not face barriers to adoption, and that the public and private sectors benefit from smart devices.
Worst: Booker co-sponsored the Algorithmic Accountability Act which would direct the Federal Trade Commission to create new rules targeting large firms that use software to automate business decisions, thereby holding decisions made by algorithms to different standards than those made by humans. The Center for Data Innovation has studied this issue in depth and concluded that legislation such as this would disincentivize companies from using algorithms to automate certain processes, thereby limiting the potential boost to productivity.
Best: Mayor Buttigieg has pledged to create a network of “connected” rural communities using next-generation infrastructure, such as smart roads and water systems, by expanding the Transportation Department’s Smart City Challenge initiative and the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities program to include rural communities. This would be productive, as the Center for Data Innovation has found that federal support for smart infrastructure, including in rural communities, is necessary to accelerate the technology’s adoption.
Worst: Buttigieg has said that the United States should adopt the right to be forgotten, a European policy that allows individuals to request that third parties, such as search engines, delete information about them, including factual information that is in the public record. ITIF’s view is that the right to be forgotten not only undermines free speech, but undermines the public right to know, allowing convicted sex offenders, disgraced politicians, and board-sanctioned doctors to hide their offenses from society.
Best: Former Secretary Castro vowed to invest $2 billion in updating flood maps using Light Detection and Ranging, or LIDAR, an advanced method to generate precise topographical maps. As the Center for Data Innovation has explained, collecting high-resolution 3D elevation data for the entire country will allow for more precise understanding of the risk from climate change and allow for better planning for development and disaster preparation.
Worst: Castro has argued that the Department of Justice should evaluate mergers not only for their impact on consumers and prices, but also on how they would impact small businesses. ITIF has studied this issue in depth and has concluded proposals such as this would be a deviation in antitrust policy that could reduce consumer welfare and economic growth.
Best: Senator Harris introduced legislation this year to bolster digital services in federal, state, and local government, providing additional funding for the U.S. Digital Services program and seed grants to state and local governments to establish and expand e-government services. ITIF has conducted a comprehensive analysis of how U.S. government websites perform based on government and industry standards, and has concluded that more investment in digital services will allow government at all levels to improve the quality of the e-government services they offer to citizens and businesses.
Worst: While Harris has been an outspoken crusader against revenge porn—both as attorney general of California, where she obtained the first major conviction, and in the U.S. senate, where she was one of the three co-sponsors of the first bill criminalizing the distribution of sexually explicit images or video of individuals without their consent—her parallel efforts to roll back Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act would negatively impact online platforms. ITIF believes eliminating this liability protection would undermine free speech online and unnecessarily expose companies to significant legal risk.
Best: Senator Klobuchar has co-sponsored legislation that would require social media companies to increase transparency of paid political advertising on their platforms and make reasonable efforts to ensure foreign entities do not purchase political ads. ITIF’s view is this requirement would create parity between the transparency requirements for online and offline political ads and reduce the risk of foreign interference in U.S. elections.
Worst: Klobuchar has proposed taxing companies for using or sharing consumer data. ITIF’s research has concluded this is a bad idea because it would pump the brakes on the data economy and make U.S. businesses less competitive.
Best: Former Congressman O’Rourke has called for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and ending subminimum wages for tipped workers. This move would increase growth as more workers join the economy and firms invest more in technology to boost productivity.
Worst: O’Rourke has proposed amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to allow lawsuits against Internet platforms that fail to enact policies and practices to combat hate speech and violence online. ITIF believes this would be problematic, because it could expose these platforms to significant liability for lawful speech by their users.
Best: Senator Sanders has rejected the idea that automation and artificial intelligence will eliminate the need for workers and has argued that, instead of a universal basic income, government should provide a strong social safety net, including by making health care and higher education available to all. As ITIF has argued, establishing policies that promote a full-employment economy and help dislocated workers make speedy and successful transitions is the best way to assist workers affected by technological change.
Worst: Sanders wants to impose a complete ban at the federal, state, and local level on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. As ITIF has stated to Congress, a ban on facial recognition would make it more difficult for police to investigate crimes and improve public safety.
Best: Senator Warren has called for better allocation of R&D investments across all parts of the country. Ensuring funding does not just go to a handful of cities will help provide economic opportunities in every region. ITIF will be issuing a report this fall detailing a federal initiative to support more innovation hubs throughout the nation.
Worst: Warren has called for legislation to break up large tech platforms. As ITIF has argued, this would reduce the efficiency and competitiveness of some of America’s most successful companies.
Best: Yang has called for reviving the Office of Technology Assessment, an independent research organization dedicated to advising lawmakers in Congress on technology policy issues. ITIF supports this idea, because as Congress faces more technology issues, it is in greater need of the kind of independent guidance an institution like OTA could provide.
Worst: Yang’s central policy issue is a plan to establish a “Freedom Dividend”—a universal basic income that would provide all U.S. citizens over the age of 18 a guaranteed payment of $1,000 per month—to address the concern that technology and automation is eliminating too many jobs. But as ITIF has argued repeatedly, establishing a universal basic income would not only reinforce people’s fears about automation, it would also lead workers to opt out of the labor market, leading to skill atrophy and a less effective labor force.
About The Author
Daniel Castro is vice president of ITIF and director of ITIF’s Center for Data Innovation. His research interests include health IT, data privacy, e-commerce, e-government, electronic voting, information security, and accessibility. Before joining ITIF, Castro worked as an IT analyst at the Government Accountability Office, where he audited IT security and management controls at various government agencies. He has a B.S. in foreign service from Georgetown University and an M.S. in information security technology and management from Carnegie Mellon University.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized as the world’s leading science and technology think tanks, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress.
 Maggie Astor, “The September Democratic Debate Will Be One Night Only,” The New York Times, September 4, 2019, .
 Interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, August 1, 2019, .
 ITIF, “China Among World’s Worst ‘Innovation Mercantilists’ for Fifth Consecutive Year, Subverting Competition in Key Industries,” news release, January 22, 2018, .
 Kate Patrick, “Joe Biden’s Record On Privacy May Give Democrats Pause,” Inside Sources, April 25, 2019, .
 Daniel Castro and Alan McQuinn, “Unlocking Encryption: Information Security and the Rule of Law” (ITIF, March 2016), .
 Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things Act, S. 1611, 116th Cong. (2019), .
 Joshua New and Daniel Castro, “Why Countries Need National Strategies for the Internet of Things” (Center for Data Innovation, December 2015), .
 Office of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, “Booker, Wyden, Clarke Introduce Bill Requiring Companies To Target Bias In Corporate Algorithms,” news release, April 10, 2019, .
 Joshua New and Daniel Castro, “How Policymakers Can Foster Algorithmic Accountability” (Center for Data Innovation, May 2018), .
 Pete for America, “Investing in an American Asset: Unleashing the Potential of Rural America,” campaign platform, .
 Joshua New, Daniel Castro, and Matt Beckwith, “How National Governments Can Help Smart Cities Succeed” (ITIF, October 2017), .
 Eric Johnson, “Mayor Pete Buttigieg talks about systemic racism, regulating tech, and the divided Democratic Party on Recode Decode,” Vox recode interview, July 15, 2019, .
 Daniel Castro, “Time to forget the ‘right to be forgotten’,” The Hill, May 30, 2014, .
 Julian Castro 2020, “Invest in Resilient Communities,” campaign platform, .
 Daniel Castro, Joshua New, and Matt Beckwith, “10 Steps Congress Can Take to Accelerate Data Innovation” (Center for Data Innovation, May 2017), .
 The New York Times, “Meet the Candidates,” interview with Julián Castro, .
 Joe Kennedy, “Why the Consumer Welfare Standard Should Remain the Bedrock of Antitrust Policy” (ITIF, October 2018), .
 Office of Sen. Kamala Harris, “Harris Introduces Legislation to Jumpstart Digital Innovation in Government,” news release, March 14, 2019, .
 Daniel Castro, Galia Nurko, and Alan McQuinn, “Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites” (ITIF, November 2017), .
 Nancy Scola, “Kamala Harris’ Crusade Against ‘Revenge Porn’,” Politico, February 1, 2019, .
 Daniel Castro and Alan McQuinn, “Why and How Congress Should Outlaw Revenge Porn” (ITIF, July 2015), .
 Honest Ads Act, S. 1356, 116th Cong. (2019), .
 ITIF, “The Lessons of Russian Meddling in 2016 Election Go Beyond Tech,” news release, November 1, 2017, .
 Eric Johnson, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 2020 presidential candidate, explains how she would regulate Big Tech if she wins,” Vox recode interview, May 16, 2019, .
 Joe Kennedy, “Digital Services Taxes: A Bad Idea Whose Time Should Never Come” (ITIF, May 2019), .
 Beto O’Rourke, “A 21st Century Labor Contract,” Medium, August 22, 2019, .
 “Liability for User-Generated Content Online: Principles for Lawmakers,” joint statement, July 11, 2019, .
 Tess Bonn, “Sanders criticizes Yang’s universal basic income proposal: ‘People want to work’,” The Hill, August 27, 2019, .
 Robert D. Atkinson, “How to Reform Worker-Training and Adjustment Policies for an Era of Technological Change” (ITIF, February 2018), .
 Shirin Ghaffary, “Bernie Sanders wants to ban police use of facial recognition tech,” Vox recode, August 19, 2019, .
 Facial Recognition Technology—Its Impact on our Civil Rights and Liberties: Hearings Before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, 116th Cong. (2019) (statement submitted for the record by Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation), May 22, 2019, .
 Elizabeth Warren, “A Plan For Economic Patriotism,” Medium, July 4, 2019, .
 Elizabeth Warren, “Here’s how we can break up Big Tech,” Medium, March 8, 2019, .
 Joe Kennedy, “Elizabeth Warren's plan to break up big tech would hurt consumers, innovation,” Fox Business, March 11, 2019, .
 Yang 2020, “Revive the Office of Technology Assessment,” campaign platform, .
 Yang 2020, “What is the Freedom Dividend?” campaign platform, .
 Robert D. Atkinson, “Robots, Automation, and Jobs: A Primer for Policymakers” (ITIF, May 2017), https://itif.org/publications/2017/05/08/robots-automation-and-jobs-primer-policymakers.