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AOL chief calls for Net alliance

America Online chairman Steve Case proposes an "Internet Alliance" to promote self-governance among Net companies.

America Online chairman Steve Case today proposed the formation of an "Internet Alliance" in hopes of promoting self-governance among Internet companies.

Case emphasized the alliance should establish principles that will increase understanding of the medium while devising ways to confront issues such as privacy, encryption, and security.

The alliance would be a way to "avoid outrageous local and national laws that would strangle the growth of the medium," Case said at Harvard University's Second International Conference on Internet and Society.

"We must self-govern," Case said. "If we don't, the Internet will go the way of other mediums--chopped up into national cubbyholes with taxes and regulations as users and governments address their issues in the only way they've ever known."

Case did not specify who would be part of the alliance and how it would differ from other Internet groups. Instead, he stated that the alliance should be something that "reflects the unique nature of our medium."

In the past, AOL has come under fire from the online community and its subscriber base for practices that have raised privacy issues. AOL was criticized when it began selling member phone numbers to a telemarketer, and when it disclosed the real identity of one of its members to a Navy investigator, which lead to the sailor's discharge. The sailor has since been reinstated.

The speech also comes a day after a Bavarian judge convicted the former manager of CompuServe Germany for allowing access to pornographic content--a topic Case used to address the assembly about the importance of self-governance.

Case's speech was followed with another by White House Internet adviser Ira Magaziner, also a vocal supporter of Internet self-regulation, who said that private groups should "come together to create a code of conduct."