While the task force, led by Ira Magaziner, special adviser to the president for policy development, is expected to conclude that the government should protect consumers' privacy, it will also say most other issues are better handled either by private industry or through current regulations and taxes.
SUPPORT FOR CDA WANING?
The hands-off recommendation apparently extends even to obscenity on the Internet, suggesting that the Clinton administration's support of the Communications Decency Act may be waning.
President Clinton last year signed the CDA, which attempts to limit "obscene" content on the Internet. But the legislation was overturned in court and is now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Speaking last month to the National Research Council, Mr. Magaziner stopped short of saying Internet content should be regulated. But he said his group, the National Information Infrastructure Task Force, will take the position that it should not be regulated separately.
"The role of government should be minimalist," he said.
Rather than set limits, Mr. Magaziner said the task force believes the U.S. government should focus on assuring that competition remains free.
ENCOURAGE, NOT HAMPER
He told the National Research Council audience that the biggest chunk of the growth in U.S. export trade over the next few years will come from the Internet, and he wants to encourage the growth, not hamper it.
Maintaining a "duty-free zone" on taxes and a hands-off approach on content at home is important to U.S. efforts to fight off other countries' attempts to impose similar restrictions, he said.
"Our paper [being issued this month] says the government should not censor the Internet," said Mr. Magaziner. "It is a slippery slope that leaves us with no clothes [in criticizing other countries' restrictions]."
STABLE LEGAL ENVIRONMENT
He suggested the U.S.' most immediate role may be to help create a stable legal environment for Internet transactions by negotiating treaties with other nations assuring there will be no taxes or content restrictions.
At the same time, he said, the U.S. should work with other nations to determine exactly what constitutes a legal, enforceable contract, what must be disclosed and how trademarks, patents and intellectual property should be protected.
"The Internet is unique and evolving," said Mr. Magaziner. He said any government attempt to set standards on other issues would founder, because technology changes faster than regulators can make laws.
Still, getting from the "position paper" stage to implementation will be a slow process.
Mr. Magaziner said the task force will recommend that various government and private industry units look at each of the issues covered by the paper, with some groups reporting back with recommendations within a year.
PRIVACY, CHILDREN'S ISSUES
He said he would recommend a Patent and Trademark Office panel handle the brand and trademark concerns. But he said that panel would face much more difficult issues and its report would probably take much longer than a year.
Mr. Magaziner said privacy and protecting children do remain the two areas that will need special Internet regulation. But while his task force will lay out the problems, it's not expected to propose solutions.
In late April, a privacy task force working on behalf of Mr. Magaziner's panel published a 56-page paper suggesting a variety of ways to develop privacy restrictions.
The task force didn't propose any specific restrictions but raised questions about whether the government should create a separate privacy agency or whether each agency should adopt privacy restrictions tailored to concerns of its own records.
Mr. Magaziner acknowledged that one problem in the privacy debate is that the Internet in many cases doesn't create new privacy issues. Instead the Web makes more people aware of the privacy issues.
"To some extent it is threatening, because people don't know how much of their information is public," he said.
The Federal Trade Commission will hold a hearing on the children's Internet issues in June, and Mr. Magaziner indicated that his task force will look to the agency for advice.
"We need some way to protect children. My guess is if the industry can't solve