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Tech Industry

Private efforts urged to boost Net commerce

Use of digital watermarks, smart agents, biometrics, and cryptography could help eliminate the need for government regulation of e-commerce, according to a group representing the largest U.S. computer hardware companies.

Use of digital watermarks, smart agents, biometrics, and cryptography could help eliminate the need for government regulation of e-commerce, according to a group representing the largest U.S. computer hardware companies.

A report issued today by the Computer Systems Policy Project urges the industry to give technology a first chance. If all else fails, the report acknowledges that government action may be necessary to create a legal framework to do business online.

The CSPP report is consistent with continuing industry efforts to stave off laws requiring online privacy protections or censorship of Internet content. To date, the White House has backed the "hands-off" approach, but pressure from legislators on privacy, content regulation, and Internet taxation has intensified.

The paper, authored by the chief technology officers of CSPP member companies, focuses on eight key issues: privacy, taxation, intellectual property, harmful content, security, electronic authentication, electronic payments, and infrastructure.

Titled "Advancing Global Electronic Commerce: Technology Solutions to Public Policy Challenges," the report examines products currently available as well as those still in development--including labels, physical tokens, and biometrics. It contends that technology frequently can outperform regulatory or legislative approaches to global public policy issues.

The report received qualified support from public interest group Center for Democracy and Technology, which sees technology as part of any framework for online commerce but not the entire answer.

"Technology needs a policy backbone; [however], technology can help promote a specific policy solution," said CDT policy analyst Ari Schwartz. "For the Internet, technology is always going to be part of the solution." Different issues require different combinations of technology, self-regulation, and government action, he noted.

CSPP membership includes CEOs of HP, Silicon Graphics, Cisco Systems, Dell Computer, IBM, Intel, Sun Microsystems, NCR, Data General, and Unisys. Apple Computer and Compaq also are represented.

Formed in 1989, CSPP has been active on technology-related public policy issues, particularly in Washington, D.C. Its current priorities include export controls on strong encryption, Internet taxation, encryption, international trade, and e-commerce.