President Barack Obama, pictured at a fund-raiser in Atlanta, said technology was key to democracy. Photo: David Goldman/AP
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The US Presidential election took a brief tech twist after Barack Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, outlined their technology policies to a New York City industry association.
New York Tech Meetup, a non-profit organisation with more than 27,000 members across the city's technology community, wrote to both candidates last month and asked how their policies would affect its members.
"Public policy has a large impact on our industry and therefore we feel it is important to educate our members about where candidates stand on issues that may affect them most," said Andrew Rasiej, the chairman of the organisation, which counts Google, Microsoft, Bloomberg, and Tumblr among its sponsors.
Hurricane Sandy and its devastating impact on the US east coast aside, the election is being contested mainly on broad economic and social issues. Technology policy has been largely overlooked in public discussion.
While New York Tech Meetup's status as a non-profit organisation excludes it from directly endorsing a candidate after receiving their responses, Rasiej said Obama appeared to have specifically addressed tech industry issues in his reply.
"The Obama response seemed more tailored specifically to overall tech industry goals," said Rasiej. "The Romney response seemed 'cut and pasted' from his general policy points, which seem to simply be directed towards a pro-business stance but with little detail."
Obama named technology as a "bridge" to "empower citizens and build a more participatory democracy" and highlighted that on his first day in office in 2009 he appointed a federal chief technology officer.
He wrote that his administration was expanding broadband networks and listed new laws that help entrepreneurs and small businesses harness "crowd funding", reformation of patent laws, and support of an open internet while enforcing intellectual property rights.
Republican Romney, who co-founded the investment firm Bain Capital, attacked the President in his response, calling the government's attempts to invest in companies "misguided" and "a disaster for the American taxpayer".
He wrote "the private sector is far more effective at pursuing and applying innovation than government could ever be".
Romney's pitch included claims he would lower taxes, limit regulation, promote free trade and confront China on intellectual property and restricted markets.
Both candidates highlighted education, with Obama posting goals that included "recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years and training 2 million workers" for jobs in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, and IT.
Both candidates also named human capital as an important issue. Obama pointed to a start-up visa program that allows foreign entrepreneurs to establish businesses in America.
Romney called for immigration law reform and said he would "raise visa caps for highly skilled foreign workers, offer permanent residence to foreign students graduating with advanced degrees in relevant fields".
According to the meetup group, a major challenge for the tech industry is a skills gap. Education and immigration are key areas of policy interest.
"We have zero unemployment in the New York tech sector so minting software developers is a major policy objective," said Rasiej.
"[That] takes the form of visa reform to allow engineers from other countries to work and possibly immigrate here, increasing the amount of [science, technology, engineering, and maths] education in public schools, and ultimately increasing the number of graduates from universities with computer science degrees."
Obama made a personal shout out to the tech industry, writing that "I've never been more optimistic about the future ... because of all of you. You'll be the next entrepreneur to turn a big idea into something– a new invention or an entire new industry."
The New York technology community was this week scrambling to keep working in the wake of Sandy's fury.