Technology? Bah humbug: “I think we ought to get on with our lives,” said Donald Trump on Wednesday, summing up his take on the complex problem of apparently Russian phishing attacks on multiple Democratic party groups during the 2016 election.
As the White House’s current resident prepared to impose sanctions on Russia for hacking, Trump said: “I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”
It’s not the first time the president-elect has been stumped by the digital world, like a technophobe who unwrapped a computer-operated nuclear arsenal on Christmas morning. And the trouble isn’t that nobody knows exactly what’s going on in the “age of computer” – it’s that technology poses some of the most complex problems in human history to the incoming administration. And its leader is a man who refers to “the cyber” and seems more concerned about the weight of the hacker, or possibly the bed – his syntax is mysterious – than about who broke into the Democratic National Committee.
US authorities spent 2016 attempting to chart new territory even beyond the DNC, DCCC and Clinton campaign hacks: how can Americans protect their infrastructure from attacks on the foundations of the internet, such as the Mirai botnet siege in October that took down some of the biggest, and most sophisticated, tech companies in the world? How can the nation’s patchwork of electoral authorities repair voting systems prone to massive, potentially catastrophic error? How should the government treat open-source encryption? Trump remains silent on the details of digital policy as the leader-to-be of a government in desperate need of consistent guiding principles.
Instead, Trump appears to regard technology as a contact point for the same obsessions that drove his campaign. He is blase about warrantless surveillance – he has said it “would be fine” to restore the NSA’s bulk data collection programs, a position his pick for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, also endorses, as does Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions. He is far more actively concerned about appearing stronger than his predecessor, Barack Obama, and as always about Chinese activity in cyberspace: