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Is Barack Obama a Mac and John McCain a PC?

May 21, 2008 |  7:07 pm

Based on the presentations (and presenters) at the annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in New Haven, Conn., today, one could easily conclude that the two leading presidential candidates had taken the roles of the two guys in the Apple commercials.

Both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama sent surrogates to the confab. P5220010_4For Obama, it was Daniel J. Weitzner, far right in photo, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is a member of the campaign's technology, media and telecommunications committee. Weitzner, who helped draft the campaign's tech policy positions, looked Steve Jobs-cool in his light tan blazer and open-collared pink shirt. And he had his Mac laptop with him on the lectern.

Carrying water for McCain was campaign special counsel Chuck Fish, far left. An intellectual property lawyer by trade, he took a more buttoned-down, corporate approach: dark gray suit, white shirt and tie. And no obvious sign of any Apple products.

The Mac/PC comparison really jumped out...

... when Weitzner and Fish started talking.

Weitzner, co-director of the Decentralized Information Group at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (yeah, his business card has really small type to fit all that in), talked in a breezy, casual fashion. He emphasized Obama's support for net neutrality legislation to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against content flowing over their networks.

"Sen. Obama’s commitment is to preserve and enable the growth of the Internet with its current openness properties," Weitzner said.

He also said Obama was committed to strengthening privacy laws, appointing a chief technology officer for the federal government and increasing the availability of high-speed Net access nationwide.

The fate of the Net is important to Obama; his campaign's success has been built on using it for organizing and fundraising, allowing him to vault from an underdog last year into the lead for the Democratic nomination, Weitzner said.

"There’s an appreciation for the Internet, a recognition of the transformative value of the Internet that I think will go a long way toward shaping the approaches that Sen. Obama would take as president," Weitzner said.

Click here for a clip of Weitzner's talk.

McCain's guy, Fish, is a former chief patent counsel for Time Warner who also has served on the advisory committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus. He laid out in lawyerly terms a plan that was more in line with big technology companies than the bloggers, privacy advocates and online activists attending the conference. He said McCain preferred a more market-oriented approach to technology issues. While not opposed to government regulations to correct problems such as net neutrality, McCain prefers to wait until problems develop.

The McCain campaign does not have a detailed technology policy, but Fish read a carefully crafted statement (we're guessing written on a Windows PC) on net neutrality:

The danger of complex ex ante regulation [definition here] is to stifle investment in better infrastructure and subject revenue growth and innovation to the speed bump or worse of regulatory process and litigation. Most everyone supports open networks, but we think there are legitimate and serious questions about how we get there. The road to over-regulated markets is paved with well-intentioned but terribly misguided legislation.

Here's a clip from Fish.

By the way, organizers said Hillary Clinton's campaign was invited to participate in the session, titled "Presidential Technology Policy: Priorities for the Next Executive," but her team was too busy trying to stay afloat in the Democratic nomination race.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: From left, Fish; Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology; Susan Crawford, visiting associate law professor at Yale University; Weitzner.

Photo credit: Jim Puzzanghera.