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Magaziner: Net privacy efforts fall short

Online industry efforts to protect Internet users' privacy have not met expectations, White House adviser Ira Magaziner says.

NEW YORK--Online industry efforts to protect Internet users' privacy have fallen short of expectations as a July 1 deadline looms, White House adviser Ira Magaziner said today.

Magaziner, the Clinton administration's pointman on digital privacy issues, said he remains hopeful that companies will come up with more comprehensive plans before the deadline.

The date marks the time federal agencies must report to President Clinton on progress toward an ambitious set of e-commerce goals and policies the White House issued last July. The deadline precedes the October start date for a European Union strict electronic privacy protection law that now conflicts with U.S. practices.

"If the private sector does not act, then eventually the government will act. I'm hopeful industry will move ahead," Magaziner said in a warning after a speech today at the Internet and Electronic Commerce conference here. "If we wanted to, we could draft legislation in days, and it would find a fertile ground for legislation or regulation."

Turning to another controversial matter, Clinton's e-commerce czar said a proposal for an international, private consortium to oversee the issuance of Internet domain names could emerge as soon as next week. That proposal, to come out of the Commerce Department, would begin handling registration of domain names or Internet addresses in the fall, when the government's current contract with private vendor Network Solutions expires.

Overall, Magaziner said he is encouraged by progress among federal agencies in implementing the policies and principles of the White House e-commerce framework.

"It's been much better than I had hoped," he said, citing movement in making the Internet a tariff-free zone, a moratorium on Internet taxes, trademarks and intellectual property protections, private management of the domain name system, and standards for digital signatures.

Magaziner added that he is hopeful the United States can stave off pressure from the European Union to enact strict privacy laws. He said the U.S. and European efforts have similar goals but different means for reaching them.

The president's senior adviser for policy development also sounded an optimistic note about a new private sector consortium to push consumer privacy involving several companies and groups. Organizations involved in the still-nascent consortia include the Better Business Bureau, Bankers Round Table, TRUSTe, the Direct Marketing Association, and others.