McCain draws Net agenda

GOP presidential hopeful John McCain spends the day in Silicon Valley, addressing a number of issues close to the hearts of high-tech executives in his bid for the presidential nomination.

5 min read
SAN JOSE, California--GOP presidential hopeful John McCain spent the day in Silicon Valley, addressing a number of issues close to the hearts of high-tech executives in his bid for the presidential nomination.

McCain vowed to resist any efforts to water down the three-year Internet tax moratorium that he helped sponsor and that has been signed into law.

The conservative Arizona senator also will seek to override a possible veto by President Clinton of a bill that protects companies against some lawsuits stemming from the Y2K bug.

"This is a vital piece of legislation to prevent as much as a trillion dollars being taken out of the economy by frivolous lawsuits," McCain said, calling the bill "bipartisan" since it received input from Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

Although he said he is open to a compromise, he expressed doubt that changes could be made without emasculating the legislation.

McCain today met for an hour with Silicon Valley icon Andy Grove and had an informal breakfast chat with about 30 high-tech executives at a breakfast meeting hosted by Intel and sponsored by TechNet, an industry lobbying group.

In a press appearance, McCain took questions from Bay Area political reporters on whether he has a chance to win the Republican nomination over Texas Gov. George Bush.

In an afternoon visit to Secure Computing, whose SmartFilter software blocks or monitors access to objectionable Web sites, McCain explained why he backs requiring filtering software on computers at public schools and libraries.

"Schools and libraries wired to the Internet at taxpayers' expense should acquire software to use according to community standards, which differ from one community to another," he said. "The decision should be decided by the local library board and the school board in that community rather than in Washington, D.C., or even in state legislatures."

He argued against civil liberties groups' allegations that it's censorship to give a library or school board the ability to filter objectionable material.

"I would fully expect some excesses [in blocking hate or sex sites], but I believe the overall benefit would be important," he added.

In an interview with CNET News.com, McCain also praised industry efforts to protect consumer privacy on the Internet, voiced dissatisfaction with the course of telecommunications deregulation, campaigned for his bill to loosen U.S. limits on encryption exports, and vowed to grant visas for immigrant high-tech workers if elected president.

News.com: You helped sponsor the three-year Internet tax moratorium that is now law. What happens after that ends?
McCain: I have confidence that this 16-member commission [set up to recommend tax policies after the moratorium expires] will come up with some reasonable proposals that will help local authorities to gain some revenue but yet not strangle this infant in the cradle. I would stoutly resist any efforts to circumvent either the intent or the letter of the legislation.

Even after last year's big holiday shopping binge online, does the Internet commerce industry still need protection?
It is still in its embryonic stages--and besides, I'm against taxes anyway.

How do you feel about the use of legislation to protect the privacy of online users?
I was pleased to get a report recently from the Federal Trade Commission that applauded the progress on privacy issues from industry efforts. The message to me is that there is much less a requirement for the government to intervene in what the industry is succeeding at.

What do you think about the privacy negotiations with the European Union? The Europeans are pushing for legislation, not private-sector efforts.
I hope the negotiations will succeed, but I'm also aware because of my involvement in other issues such as aviation that it's very difficult.

There's a recent court ruling that suggests tying tax money for Internet access in libraries to a requirement that they use filtering software may be unconstitutional. What's your take on that view?
I saw the decision, and I believe we can shape the requirement in a way that would be constitutional. We asked for an opinion from the Congressional Research Service on our legislation, and in their opinion it is constitutional.

You once backed domestic controls on encryption but have supported legislation to ease the export rules for the data-scrambling technology. Where are we today on resolving the stalemate on exporting products that use strong encryption?
We have a new proposal, which is still not agreeable to Silicon Valley or the Clinton administration, that moves a great distance toward a resolution.

And if neither side likes it?
I think we are going to move it through committee on June 23, and it will pass through the Senate, then go to conference committee with the House. At that time I would hope we could make changes that would satisfy both the administration and Silicon Valley.

Will the administration support that?
They're still opposed to my new legislation, but there's a growing realization in the administration that the present policy is not working, that our industry stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in business, and they've got to take a fresh approach.

Are you happy with the pace of telecommunications reform?
All the progress that has been made is in spite of rather than because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Technological advances have bypassed the law. In areas where we haven't had regulation, such as cable rates, the rates have gone up 23 percent in the last three years, and that's unconscionable.

All the special interests played a key role in that legislation, and the consumer and average citizen was left out. Until we have campaign finance reform, the special interests will have a stranglehold on Congress. You can only hope for technological advances that will make the legislation obsolete.

Where do you stand on immigrant visas for skilled high-tech workers to work for U.S. companies?
As president of the United States, I would make sure those visas are available, and I am proud to have played some supportive role in the H-1B legislation. I am a firm, committed advocate of legal immigration. If someone who is qualified and educated here wants to stay in the country and work, we should encourage them to do so.

The strength of America is directly related to legal immigration. The infusion of fresh blood to our nation accounts for its vitality and leadership.