Legal experts, content execs debate Internet policy

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Online content executives and Internet legal experts debated online privacy, encryption, filtering and other online policy issues at a forum of the Internet Content Coalition earlier this week at the offices of ZDNet in San Francisco. The ICC is an organization of more than 20 online media and marketing companies whose mission is to establish standards and practices for publishing and commerce on the Internet.

Headlining the event was Ira Magaziner, senior policy development adviser to President Clinton until December. Mr. Magaziner now heads his own consultancy, SJS in Quincy, Mass.

Speculating on what legislation or regulation to expect from the Clinton administration in the Internet arena, Mr. Magaziner said, ``The next year to two years will be critical in determining whether the Internet remains a free medium or whether it becomes a medium the government cannot resist regulating.''

However, Mr. Magaziner said that as TV, telephony and the Internet converge, the answer to a truly free marketplace lies in not regulating the Internet, but in deregulating the broadcasting and telecommunications industries.

On the e-commerce front, particularly with regard to taxation, Mr. Magaziner proposed the following: ``It may be possible to create a system based on giving protection [to consumers] to be used in their own country, regardless of where the company is based.''

However, said Christine Varney, former Federal Trade Commission commissioner and current head of the Internet practices group at Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson, ``I don't see businesses submitting themselves to 150 regimes,'' referring to the administrative nightmare it would be for companies to be subject to different rules and regulations for each customer.

Mr. Magaziner had a solution. ``The answer would be software that would pull up screens and give notifications [based on the home country of the user].'' Could this be the next hot Internet IPO?

Copyright January 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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