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Private sector should lead Net

Two high-tech execs discuss global e-commerce policies based on the idea that the private sector should govern Net issues.

Governments in the United States, Europe, and Japan are pursuing Internet commerce policies based largely on the principle that the private sector, not governments, should take the lead on Internet issues, say two high-tech executives active on global Net issues.

"There's pretty good agreement in a broad way on the issues," said IBM vice president of Internet technology John Patrick, the company's representative on the Global Internet Project (GIP)."They each say things a little differently, but pretty much are the same. Where there is divergence, it's mostly on the fine points."

The GIP, started by Netscape founder and chairman James Clark, includes 13 major international software and telecommunications companies and is pushing pro-Internet policies with governments around the globe. Members include AT&T WorldNet Service, Fujitsu, GTE Internetworking, BBN Planet, British Telecom, and Visa International.

"You really have a great deal of harmony on the principles and trends between the EU [European Union] position, the U.S. position, and the Japanese position," agreed Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, which provides staff support for the GIP.

"There are two areas where there are some obvious disagreements, and then the next important question is how you implement the principles," Miller added. He mentioned disagreements over U.S. limits on exporting strong encryption and European curbs, due to go into effect in a year, against exporting personal data to nations with privacy policies more lax than Europe's stringent rules.

The GIP's Internet commerce recommendations, published this week on its Web site, bear great similarities to the Clinton administration's Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. White House Internet adviser Ira Magaziner, who drafted the policy, and other U.S. officials have been promoting the Clinton policies overseas, particularly in Europe.

Miller and Patrick attended a GIP meeting in Brussels, where members also met with European Union officials who are setting Internet policies.

EU Telecommunications commissioner Martin Bangemann has proposed an international charter to deal with questions such as technical standards, illegal content, licenses, encryption, and data privacy on the Internet.

Peter F. Harter, Netscape's global public policy counsel, told Reuters that GIP representatives welcomed a global approach, after a Bangemann aide explained the plan.

Magaziner, consistent with the Clinton e-commerce policy he drafted, also has backed an international approach, but cautions against creating a new regulatory body.

"We need from the very beginning to develop global agreements," Magaziner told the Software Publishers Association (SPA) conference in Washington, D.C., last month.

But ITAA's Miller cautions that agreeing about broad principles is the easy part.

"The next tricky part is how to implement a lot of these changes, particularly when the critical path to implementation is to have industry lead and governments be there basically to ratify and put into law the industry-led solutions," he said.

Another issue is what to do if individual European governments or U.S. states and localities decide to push their own Internet taxes or content rules.

"The EU in Brussels understands it would be very, very harmful to have individual states balkanized by setting up tax regimes that would differ from one area to another," Miller said, noting that U.S. government officials are focused on the same issue. Congress is considering legislation to prevent states and local governments from levying Internet taxes.

The GIP has addressed other issues before other international bodies. It pushed global telecommunications deregulation in recommendations to the International Telecommunications Union and urged implementation of policies on security and authentication at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

The GIP plans two other initiatives, Patrick said. One is to detail the inhibitors to Internet commerce, and the other is to highlight positive developments that have occurred because of the global Internet.

"Industry has a critical role to play in the next two or three years to take advantage of the consensus that the industry should lead on these issues," ITAA's Miller added. "Now we just have to step up to the plate and show realistic solutions."