Regulating the Net

The Clinton Administration wants to "establish cyberspace as a duty-free zone" by "advocating for no new taxes on the Internet," a task force headed by senior policy advisor Ira Magaziner said in a recent report.

The task force's draft, "A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce," recommends a limited role for the federal government in developing standards and policies for trade on the Internet.

"The Administration believes that widespread competition and increased consumer participation in marketplace choices, not government regulation, should be the defining features of the new digital age," the report said.

In addition to electronic commerce issues, the task force report explored encryption policy and infrastructure concerns.

Encryption is the encoding method used to secure transactions over the Internet. The Clinton Administration supports a "key-escrow" encryption policy in which the federal government would be able to break the code of encrypted messages during criminal investigations. Privacy advocates on the Internet oppose the "key-escrow" plan because they say it would allow the government to pry into personal messages.

The draft also called for the creation of a "self-regulatory regime" to handle infrastructure concerns like domain name distribution. Domain names are the addresses used on the Internet, like whitehouse.gov or govexec.com. Trademark issues have been brought up regarding domain names and the contractor that handles domain distribution for the National Science Foundation, the InterNIC Registration Services group at Network Solutions Inc., has had difficulty keeping up with the explosive growth of the Internet.

The Internet Society, an organization of businesses, non-profits, individuals, and several government agencies, took offense at the task force's conclusion that "there is no authoritative forum available at this time for addressing policy issues regarding the use of GII [Global Information Infrastructure] identifiers, including domain names."

The Internet Society sponsors several working committees that address management of domain names, intellectual property issues, and Internet standards development.

"For the Internet to achieve its fullest potential, we believe self-governance is required. The role of the Internet Society is to facilitate that requirement," the society wrote in a letter to Magaziner.

The Reston, Va.-based Internet Society has 100 organizational and 7,000 individual members in 150 countries.

The interagency task force on electronic commerce includes representatives from 14 agencies, including the departments of State, Treasury and Justice, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.

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