clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What Silicon Valley can expect under Trump

From immigration to surveillance to self-driving cars, Trump’s cabinet appointments give us a glimpse of what's to come.

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Albuquerque, NM Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Since the election, Trump has named only a handful of appointments to serve his administration, making it difficult to grok what a Trump presidency means for many of the complex issues that are dear to Silicon Valley — like immigration, network neutrality, self-driving cars and surveillance.

Of the 690 positions the incoming administration needs to fill and get confirmed by the Senate, only 30 have been named, according to a tracker run by the Washington Post and the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

And it’s worth noting that the new White House website (now in the hands of the Trump administration) doesn’t say a word about technology policy.

Still, a look at the few appointments Trump has made, as well as those he brought on to advise his transition efforts, sheds light on what Silicon Valley might expect under a Trump administration.

Here’s what we know.

Merger-friendly appointments

AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner is currently under review by the Justice Department.

And despite what Trump said on the campaign trail against the proposed merger, the individuals Trump picked to oversee the DOJ transition have a history helping large, private companies get their way with U.S. regulatory agencies.

Under Trump, the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that tackles antitrust issues, is expected to be led by Sean Reyes, the attorney general of Utah, according to Politico. According to Reyes’s bio, he formerly offered legal services to Fox Business News and was a partner at Accelerate Ventures, meaning Reyes has experience working for the interest of investors and media companies.

The FCC is often tasked with approving media mergers, and Ajit Pai, the current FCC commissioner who is expected to be appointed chairman of the agency, also has an industry-friendly track record. He voted, for example, against Charter’s attempt to buy Time Warner Cable on the grounds that the merger conditions the FCC included in the deal imposed onerous regulations that should be left out.

Skilled worker visas

One thing Trump has been clear on is his determination to tighten U.S. borders. But when it comes to H1B visas — the program for foreign nationals working in highly skilled jobs like computer science and engineering — Trump has been less direct.

(The H1B program brings in approximately 65,000 foreign workers to the U.S. a year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.)

Trump’s team has proposed an overhaul of the lottery system used to issue the H1B work permits, according to Reuters. Suggestions for reforming the visa program include raising the cost of the application process or instituting a petition system for jobs with high salaries. In 2014, 65 percent of H1B visas were for tech jobs.

Andy Puzder, CEO of fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., is Trump’s pick to run the Department of Labor, the agency responsible for regulating legal work visa immigration programs.

An op-ed Puzder co-authored in the Wall Street Journal last year noted, “legal immigrants are an asset to the country. ... Deportation should be pursued only when an illegal immigrant has committed a felony or become a ‘public charge.’” Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, obtained an H1B visa to work in the United States in 1996.

Even though the H1B program doesn’t appear to be on Trump’s chopping block, that doesn’t mean Silicon Valley should expect the President to take action to raise the number of H1B visas available — what many in the tech industry really want. A change like that could require Congressional approval.

Industry-friendly regs for self-driving cars and the gig economy

Trump announced in December that he will nominate Elaine Chao, former chief of the Department of Labor under the Bush administration, to head the Department of Transportation. Though she has little experience with self-driving cars, at a confirmation hearing earlier this month Chao hinted that she’s in favor of a light regulatory agenda that won’t get in the way of continued tech development in the nascent industry.

Chao has also made comments that suggest she doesn’t think it makes sense to impose existing federal labor protections on gig economy jobs — a workforce on-demand tech companies like Uber, Instacart and Lyft all rely on.

Not instituting federal protections for gig economy workers could be good for Uber and other on-demand tech companies that use independent contractors, since that means not having to pay for employee healthcare or contribute to retirement plans. But it’s also potentially bad for workers, especially if federal healthcare programs are rolled back under Trump.

More digital surveillance

Trump is coming into power at a time when the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is stepping down. Clapper oversaw the NSA, FBI, CIA and DEA, as well as 13 other agencies that operate under a total budget of $52 billion.

Under Clapper’s leadership, Facebook, AT&T, Verizon, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and other large technology companies turned over their users’ data under national security orders.

Whoever Trump picks to fill the position will likely echo the new president’s philosophy on surveillance, which many privacy advocates see as particularly onerous.

As a candidate, Trump said he wanted to place mosques under government surveillance and possibly build a national database to track Muslim-Americans, though most major tech companies have since said they would not participate in such a program.

Trump also threatened to call for a boycott of Apple over the company’s refusal to compromise the encryption on an iPhone.

General John Kelly, though, who was confirmed Friday as the new Department of Homeland Security chief, said at his confirmation hearing earlier this month: “I don’t agree with registering people based on ethnicity or religion,” and “I’m not for the mass collection of data.” DHS coordinates much of the domestic digital surveillance throughout the U.S.

Net neutrality faces extinction

Trump’s reported pick for the FCC chairmanship, Commissioner Ajit Pai, is expected to roll back the 2015 network neutrality rules, which were created to keep internet providers like Comcast and Verizon from charging websites like Netflix and Facebook an extra fee to reach internet users at faster speeds.

Under Trump, the commission will be staffed by a Republican majority. Trump has been outspoken against network neutrality, as have the people he appointed to help with the transition of the FCC under his presidency.

Companies like Netflix, Google, Facebook and Etsy all supported network neutrality in a campaign to pass the internet protections. Netflix, in particular, spent millions in lobbying dollars to pass the regulations.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.