Cyber Wars: How Trump and Clinton's view of privacy and cybersecurity differ

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have given some details of their cybersecurity policies

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump,

Image: John Locher AP/Press Association Images

There is less than a month to go before the United States elects its 45th president, and while there are many perennial issues being debated — healthcare, the right to bear arms, immigration, terrorism and jobs — for the first time ever in a presidential election the question of cybersecurity is a key consideration for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In the four years since Barack Obama began his second term, the world has changed dramatically. We have seen Edward Snowden reveal the true extent of the US cyber surveillance operations, while countries like Russia and China ramp up their own cyber capabilities by building large armies of hackers, willing and capable of hacking into pretty much any target around the world.

Add to this the increased invasion of privacy of regular citizens, and it is clear that whoever is elected as the next US president will have to address this issues of cyber security and privacy head on.

So what do Clinton and Trump have to say about these issues?

Let’s start with The Donald

According to the Republican nominee’s own website, he has no official policy on either cybersecurity or privacy, preferring instead to focus on paying for the wall, immigration reform and second amendment rights.

However Trump had given us an insight into his own thoughts on these subjects and his level of understanding. “The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough,” Trump said during the first presidential debate last month. He continued:

"So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10-years-old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable.”

Hardly what you would call nuanced commentary on a complex and difficult subject matter, and describing all hackers as “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” will hardly endear him to that community.

This is not Trump’s first confused comment on cybersecurity. In an interview with the New York Times he said the following: “First off, we’re so obsolete in cyber. We’re the ones that sort of were very much involved with the creation, but we’re so obsolete, we just seem to be toyed with by so many different countries, already. And we don’t know who’s doing what. We don’t know who’s got the power, who’s got that capability, some people say it’s China, some people say it’s Russia. But certainly cyber has to be a, you know, certainly cyber has to be in our thought process, very strongly in our thought process. Inconceivable that, inconceivable the power of cyber.”

He has called Snowden a traitor and hinted that he should be executed; he has called on Russian hackers to find 30,000 missing Clinton emails; and he believes that people should boycott Apple over its stance on the San Bernardino shooting.

Trump also believes that certain parts of the internet should be shut off to combat Islamic State, and has proposed calling on Bill Gates to help out — though what the Microsoft founder has to do with policing the internet is unclear.

Despite Trump’s confused comments, it is clear that he favours an increase in powers given to intelligence agencies at the cost of privacy while forcing private companies to make their product less secure.

So what about Clinton?

The Democratic candidate certainly has more fully-formed cybersecurity and privacy policies, laid out on her own website. However, the issue which is dominating headlines in this area is not one Clinton wants to be addressing.

Last year it emerged Clinton was using a private email server at her home for official communications while working as Secretary of State, instead of using the state department email accounts which are stored on federal servers. Clinton never told the state department and the fact only came to light when a hacker leaked official emails including ones sent to her personal address.

While the FBI has dubbed Clinton’s actions as “extremely careless,” it recommended in July 2016 that no charges should be brought against her.

Trump has sought to highlight Clinton’s error at every opportunity, going so far as to say he would prosecute her if he becomes president. Clinton has admitted her error, but maintains her stance that no top secret emails were ever leaked, and the server was never hacked.

Clinton is seeking to get the public to follow a “do as I say, not as I do” line, highlighting cybersecurity as one of the main concerns for the next president.

“[Cybersecurity is] one of the most important challenges the next president is going to face because the advances, the offensive advances by nation states that we know are very technically sophisticated — namely Russia, China, next level Iran, next level North Korea — are going to just accelerate. We have to be operating on both of these levels, making it very clear to Russia, to China, that not only that what their government does through various entities, but also if they outsource the work to hackers, they will pay a price.”

In relation to Apple and encryption, Clinton has sat on the fence. On one hand, she has appeared alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook at a fundraiser in Silicon Valley, while also telling MSNBC: “we want to catch and make sure there’s nobody else out there whose information is on the cellphone of that killer.”

In relation to Snowden, Clinton doesn’t go as far as Trump in calling him a traitor, but has said: “There were other ways that Mr. Snowden could have expressed his concerns,” noting that contacting Congress would have been a smart choice.

“I think everyone would have applauded that because it would have added to the debate that was already started," said Clinton. "Instead, he left the country — first to China, then to Russia — taking with him a huge amount of [sensitive] information."

In her policy documents, Clinton says a balance can be found between giving intelligence agencies adequate access to data and protecting people’s privacy: “[I] reject the false choice between privacy interests and keeping Americans safe.”

Clinton calls for more ways of securing the public’s privacy, advocating for the creation of “a national commission on digital security, so that the technology and public safety communities can work together on solutions that address law enforcement needs, while preserving individual privacy and security.”

From what she has said and published in policy documents, Clinton certainly has more clear vision of what she wants to do in relation to cybersecurity and privacy should she get to the White House.

However, comments about encryption and creating a Manhattan-like project in relation to encryption, show that she may not fully understand the technicalities of what she is asking for, and the email scandal is a warning about how Clinton handles her personal cybersecurity.