Apart from good press, tech companies also had a few things to celebrate out of Tuesday’s speech, including a call for immigration policy reform to “attract highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers” — something that high-tech companies have been requesting for years.
In a statement from the Consumer Electronics Association, president Gary Shapiro commended the president for his remarks and said that current policies are “locking out the next generation of brilliant innovators.” Current bills in Congress, such as the Immigration Innovation Act, are aimed at making it easier for doctoral and Master’s degree graduates in science, technology, engineering and math programs to remain in the United States and increase the number of H1-B visas, which are employer-sponsored visas for skilled workers.
Several consumer tech company executives, including Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith who sit on the Technet Executive Council, have called for immigration reform on their own and through the lobbying group TechNet.
As for encouraging a home-grown crop of innovators, Obama also announced an initiative focused on increasing STEM courses to prepare high school graduates for a “high-tech” economy. Obama also spent time discussing the need for development of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and natural gas.
But the tech issue that got the most play in the speech was cybersecurity and the rhetoric was backed up with an executive order that establishes voluntary standards to bolster the security in computer networks in key industries.
As The Washington Post reported, the order directs the Commerce Department to work with federal agencies and industries such as banking and electric power to come up with standards for sharing cyber-threat information. Obama said that the executive order was not enough, however, to address the problem fully and called on Congress to continue working on cybersecurity legislation.
Obama also made a quick mention of completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade agreement that some Web activists have flagged as having restrictive IP regulations regarding copyright, fair use and other issues. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, has a running petition asking Congress and the White House to be more transparent about these discussions.
Analyst Maira Sutton, a global policy analyst for EFF, said that the negotiations have “completetly shut out public itnerest groups” and questioned Obama’s assertion that the agreement will “level the playing field” in Asia.
“Based upon what we know from leaked drafts of the TPP, U.S. trade delegates continue to push for provisions that would protect copyright and other private content industry interests at the expense of Internet users and innovative new companies in the US and around the world,” she said.