Protego Weekly Update: Democratic Debate Edition

The fourth Democratic primary debate featured 12 candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination in Westerville, Ohio, this one hosted by CNN and the New York Times. While discussion of impeachment, healthcare policy and other major issues dominated the night, there was plenty of discussion of technology and policy- and even some new tech employed to secure the debate itself. Here’s a quick breakdown of the tech issues discussed:

Democrats’ debate about automation peddled myths, writes Vox columnist Matthew Yglesias. Taking issue with comments by candidates such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, Yglesias notes that “Democratic candidates given the opportunity to address this topic at Tuesday’s debate mostly claimed to believe the country is experiencing a surge of automation-driven productivity increases.” Yglesias notes that Senator Elizabeth Warren puts the cause of challenges to worker productivity to trade, but ultimately finds fault with both perspectives. “This trade versus automation debate is interesting and at least somewhat important, but its significance pales in comparison to the significance of the larger slowdown in the pace of change.”

Even as Twitter sought to clarify its rules about how it handles the accounts of world leaders on Tuesday afternoon, Senator Kamala Harris sought to bring attention to Donald Trump’s questionable use of the platform to spread disinformation and incite violence. But her efforts fell flat, argues Will Sommer in The Daily Beast. “Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) unsuccessfully tried at Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate to win Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) over to her push for Twitter to ban Donald Trump, an issue that is quickly becoming a signature of Harris’ presidential bid.”

Social media manipulation and election interference in 2016 emerged as a debate between some candidates. Andrew Yang suggested Russia’s effort in 2016 to influence the US election was similar to actions taken by the US to meddle around the world, a position that met condemnation from Senator Amy Klobuchar. “I don’t see a moral equivalency between our country and Russia,” Klobuchar said, calling the Russian effort an invasion. She also reiterated the necessity of reforms such as the Honest Ads Act, a bill she introduced with Senators Mark Warner and Lindsey Graham to bring transparency to social media political advertising that has not become law.

In a warning sign for Silicon Valley, most candidates seemed to agree the scale of Big Tech companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google is cause for concern, raising the specter of antitrust actions to reign in the giants. “I’m not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy. It’s time to fight back,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. One dissenter from this view was Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Yang. “Competition doesn’t solve all the problems,” Yang argued. “It’s not like any of us wants to use the fourth-best navigation app. There is a reason why no one is using Bing today. Sorry, Microsoft, it’s true.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to the candidates, the debate was secured in part through the use of a new drone surveillance system operated by local law enforcement. According to local news reports, multiple agencies had access to the “overwatch” footage. “It’s going to be our first time actually doing overwatch of a very big incident such as this where we are going to have all kinds of people up here,” said Franklin County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Sam Byrd. Civil liberties groups such as the ACLU have raised concerns about privacy and related issues as more and more police departments employ drones.

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