Tech policies eclipsed in Obama’s final State of the Union

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President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday was framed by technological and scientific innovation and the sweeping changes they bring, but largely eschewed the traditional laundry list of policy proposals in favor of a broad commentary on America’s future.

“We live in a time of extraordinary change,” he said. “America has been through big changes before  … Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future … And each time, we overcame those fears.”

The president name-checked a couple of technology priorities — innovation, education, the Trans Pacific Partnership — but launched only a single major new initiative in the field: against cancer. Obama put Vice President Joseph Biden in charge of a “moonshot” against the disease.

“For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,” Obama said, in a soaring but in parts highly political address, where he threw elbows at GOP rivals.

In a fact sheet released during the speech, the administration said its “moonshot” will work on a public-private partnership to fit a decade’s worth of cancer treatment research into five years.

“Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight,” Obama said. “That spirit of discovery is in our DNA.”

But the president was silent on two high profile technology issues that have dogged the administration over the past year: cybersecurity and encryption, despite an agreement with China to stop economic espionage signed a few months ago and various administration members meeting with Silicon Valley companies to discuss encryption last week.

On cybersecurity, the president’s defenders could legitimately claim that — whether Beijing has been abstaining from cyber-espionage or not — the administration has laid down accountable deadlines for federal action through its Cybersecurity Implementation Plan.

On encryption, however, it seems clear that the White House is still unwilling to admit that political goodwill cannot trump mathematics.

You can read the full text of Obama’s speech on Medium.

Reporter Greg Otto contributed to this story.

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Government IT News, State of the Union, White House
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