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Internet

Congress Web rules hit home

The Web may be an open frontier for millions of Netizens around the world, but not for members of the U.S. Congress.

The Web may be an open frontier for millions of Netizens around the world, but not for members of the U.S. Congress.

The House Oversight Committee and the Senate Rules Committee have extended their considerable regulatory authority to cyberspace with a new resolution that dictates what can and cannot be posted to the official Web pages of congressional representatives, according to resolutions obtained Friday by CNET.

The regulations forbid any postings on a congressional home page that are not directly related to official business. The pages must specifically remain free of any partisan political information because they are paid for by taxpayers.

"Allowing congressmen to link their official sites to campaign sites would set a dangerous precedent," according to Gary Selnos, a professor of communications at San Francisco State University who is writing a book about the Internet's impact on political campaigning. "This rule makes the distinction between Web pages funded by taxpayer money to disseminate legislative information and those funded by the candidates to campaign for reelection."

But partisan information is not the only thing outlawed on official congressional Web pages. In accordance with the resolutions, members of Congress are banned from reporting any personal or family activities not in connection with "legislative, representative and other official functions," or including any advertisement for a private individual, firm, or corporation that might imply a government endorsement or favor. The Senate resolution even specifically forbids the transmission of holiday greeting to constituents unless it is at the "commencement or conclusion of an otherwise proper transmission."

Over 170 members of the House and all 100 members of the Senate have Web pages.