The following text is copyright 1997 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

Making the world safe for dollars.

A few weeks ago the Clinton administration published A Framework For Global Electronic Commerce ( a few days later the European Ministerial Conference on Global Information Networks: Realizing the Potential published its report ( Together these two documents can provide a view into what governmental bureaucrats are thinking is going on in the Internet. This may come as a surprise but these bureaucrats seem to have run across some clues and the results are not totally irrelevant to the real world.

Although the European document is more about statements of principal and leaves out some of the specifics of the US document the two documents are mostly in sync as far as the basics are concerned.

They both think that the Internet is good stuff -- "a highly positive development" --and that it will be even more important in the future than it is now. They both worry about the Domain Name System and how to manage it. Both strongly think that the Net should be "market-led and left to private initiative" and should continue to use the "consensus-based process of standards development and acceptance" . Sadly the US document mentions the traditional standards community ( the ITU and ISO), which have been almost irrelevant to the Internet but fails to suggest 'dancing with the one that brung ya' (in the words of an old song) and still refuses to mention the IETF. Both documents call for a clear and predictable regulatory framework for electronic commerce, the equivalent of the US Uniform Commercial Code, but because of the "fundamentally transnational nature of the Internet" this will have to be worked out in the international arena. They also call for content rating systems so that individuals can control what their kids see on the net Finally both documents call for care in the area of taxes on the Internet, the US document calls for a tax system that "does not discriminate among types of commerce" and the European one calls for "non-discriminatory taxes" on the use of these networks.

But there are some real differences between the documents. In general I'm closer to the European point of view in most cases. The first big difference is in the area of privacy. The European document supports the "fundamental right to privacy and personal and business data" and calls for laws to protect this right. The US view is quite different and implies that privacy is subservient to business "needs" and only asks for a "voluntary framework" to protect , at some level, individual privacy. Naturally encryption is an issue. Europe is strongly in favor of the "free choice of cryptography products" and restrictive laws only when they are "proportionate and effective". The US calls for key escrow, which is clearly not effective against the bad guys who would ignore any such laws and has many other problems. Amazingly enough the US document also calls for an unfettered right to spam! All in all, good documents but the US one could be better.

disclaimer: Harvard does not "do" spam (either kind) and in any case the above are my observations.