What was your first experience on the Net like?
My first experience was a little confusing, as I
recall. I didn't quite know how to do a search. I just kind of
bounced from one Web page to another without really quite knowing where I
It's gotten to the point where I can't do research on anything
without stopping first at the Internet. If I want to buy a new pair of ski
boots or if I want to know what the weather is like someplace, my first
instinct is to always go to the Internet because you can get real-time
information that I know is pretty accurate. So I've really come to use it a
Does Congress understand the Net better since the Internet
Caucus was founded in March of 1996?
Frankly I think there's been a major change. And I'd like to take
credit for that through the Internet Caucus, but I can't say it's all our
doing. A year ago people just didn't quite seem to understand what the
Internet was about. They thought it was a new form of television or
Now I think there's a recognition that this is a different medium, a
medium with lots of potential but a medium that's different from a lot of
the media that we've seen in the past. They don't understand that it's a
people talking to each other. And that leads to a lot of mistakes.
What does it mean for members of Congress to join the Internet
If you join the Internet Caucus you have to take the online
pledge, which means that within 90 days you have to have a Web site in your
office, you have to be available by email, you've got to agree to have an
open mind on some of these issues. So the Internet Caucus isn't one of
these things where you can just put your name on a list and forget about
it. It requires a little action and activity on your part.
way we wanted it, but it sometimes takes us a little longer to explain to
people that they ought to join. We've had great success. We started out
with 20 members a year ago--we've now got close to 100. So that's progress,
but we don't have everybody yet.
What do you think should have happened with the Communications
Decency Act the first time around?
Well, you know, the Communications Decency
Act deals with
pornography on the Internet. It's one of these age-old issues that
people have tried to deal with forever and ever under the First Amendment
to our Constitution. We all want to protect children from inappropriate
materials, but we also want to make sure that we don't prevent adults from
doing things that are constitutionally protected. So it's just a question
of how do you do that with this new medium.
One of the real frustrating things for me was that when we adopted the
standard in the Communications Decency Act, we just took a rule that we had
developed for television and applied to the Internet without really
thinking about it. And I think that's why we ended up with something that's
I actually was in the Supreme Court listening to the oral
arguments. I think they will find that what we did was unconstitutional,
but with a little luck they'll give us some guidance on how we can adopt a
law to solve this problem that would still be constitutional.
Didn't you try to change the wording in the CDA from "patently offensive"
to "harmful to minors?"
Yes, the whole issue on the Communications Decency Act was: Do we
use this indecency standard, which is what we ended up using, or the
so-called harmful-to-minors standard. The only difference was
"indecency" was kind of vague so that you don't know if you're violating
the law under the indecency standard because it doesn't really quite tell
you what's OK and what isn't. The harmful-to-minors standard was much
more specific--for example,
if you have the interview that President Carter did in Playboy
that's OK, but the centerfold from Playboy is not OK to give to
children. That's the sort of guidance that would make the law
Do you monitor your child's use of the Net?
My oldest child is 13, and she loves to get on the Internet.
The last thing in the world that she's concerned about, at least as far as
I know, is getting into some of these sexual sites on the Internet. But I
know that I'm just right at
the beginning of that process where I'm going to have to exercise a little
bit more control over that. And what we tend to rely on is: No. 1, having
understand what we expect her to limit herself to; and No. 2, software
that would help us do that.
The problem with the Internet (and also the
wonderful advantage of it) is that it isn't limited to the U.S. You could
just as easily get a Web site in Amsterdam or Thailand as you can one in
Seattle, Washington. So no matter what laws we have in place in the
country, they're not going to affect a lot of what you can get on the
Internet. So we fully understand that we've got to protect our
daughter because the government's not going to be able to do it.
Do you think a law akin to the CDA will turn up after the
Supreme Court's decision? What other Net legislation is Congress working on?
With respect to the Communications Decency Act, I think a lot
depends on what the court comes up with in June. If they totally throw out
the whole statute but say, "Here's the way you could do it," then there may
be a movement to try to restrict the access of children in a constitutional
way that allows adults to do everything they should be entitled to do on
the Internet--and I think that would be a positive thing. It may be that
the court just tinkers with it and we don't need to do anything. So a lot
depends on the final ruling.
With respect to other issues, there are a ton of things coming
down the pike that really have a big impact on the Internet community:
encryption, copyright protection, intellectual property rights, taxation,
privacy issues--all these things that, like it or not, Congress is going to
have to deal with in the next three or four years. I just hope the
Internet community is
as active and as vocal as it possibly can be to let us know what they think
we should do.
NEXT: Regulation, e-commerce, and partisanship