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Tech Week agenda weak

The Senate made its "High-Tech Week" sound sexy, but its agenda casts aside the hottest Net and computing issues.

The Senate made its "High-Tech Week" sound intriguing. But in an effort to dodge controversy, this week's agenda casts aside the hottest Net and computing issues.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) touted the week as See related story: 
Congress tackles high-tech issues an opportunity to take up a handful of bills passed by the Senate Commerce Committee, such as his bill to require that public schools and libraries getting federal discounts on Net access install filters to screen out material that is "inappropriate for minors."

But McCain's bill is not on the calendar after all, nor is a proposal by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) to restrict minors' access to "Adults Only" Web sites.

"It's pretty much a bust," said David Sobel, legal counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "They had said at the outset that it was going to be the noncontroversial technology issues and I guess they realized there aren't too many of those."

Also left out is a bill to prohibit most forms of online gambling; and the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which would place a three- to six-year moratorium on the creation of state and local taxes targeted specifically at Net access and services.

"There have been a number of rumors that Internet Tax Freedom will come up, but I don't think it will," said Lauren Hall, chief technologist for the Software Publishers Association. "We'd be happy to see a good crypto bill come up this week."

A new bill was introduced in the Senate today to relax the Clinton administration's controls on the export of strong encryption.

Civil liberties organizations are glad to see McCain's bill on hold. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation kick-started a fax campaign this week to stop the so-called Internet School Filtering Act, which the groups say poses a threat to free speech under the First Amendment, along with Coats's bill.

"They got taken off because I think we succeeded in making everybody realize that those bills were in fact controversial," Sobel added.

With most of the sticky proposals still on the sidelines, the Senate does plan to vote on a handful of other technology-related bills, as follows:

  • American Competitiveness Act: Pushed by Silicon Valley companies, Sen. Spencer Abraham's (R-Michigan) bill will expand the 65,000 annual cap on the number of foreigners allowed to petition for H-1B work visas.

  • Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act: Endorsed by President Clinton and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the legislation would impose "uniform standards" regarding shareholder lawsuits filed in state courts against nationally traded public companies that have volatile stock prices--such as the array high-tech start-ups across the country.

  • National Science Foundation Authorization Act and Next Generation Internet (NGI) Research Act: Both bills would authorize federal funding for science and technology projects. The NGI bill could set appropriations at more than $105 million in 1999 and 2000, and would create an advisory board to oversee the project, which aims to build a high-speed network for advanced applications used by academia and government research agencies.

  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act: This bill combines most of the WIPO Copyright Treaties Implementation Act and the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act to expand the copyright protection of online software, literature, and music, but limits Net access providers' liability for infringements made by their customers.