[Henson Update at the end of this article]
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Making an E-Contract With America
By Declan McCullagh June 23, 2001 PDT WASHINGTON -- House Republicans gathered this week to reassure technology firms that they have little to fear from new, intrusive and expensive regulations. At a press conference on Capitol Hill, GOP legislators claimed they were "laying the foundation for a prosperous high-technology future" by adopting a largely laissez-faire approach that embraces lower taxes, free trade and more federal spending on education and research. But when it comes to free speech and fair use rights, Republicans - and most Democrats -- have been far more meddlesome.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), House Judiciary Committee http://www.house.gov/sensenbrenner/ chairman, claimed credit at the event for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law that's universally loathed by the open-source community and is currently being challenged in federal court. The prudish Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) was hailed http://www.house.gov/goodlatte/ as an "entrepreneurial legislator" for endorsing laws against sexually explicit material online and trying to ban online gambling. The so-called e-Contract with America says the GOP plans to ensure that government leads by example with the security and privacy of personal information. http://www.freedom.gov/econtract/econtract2k1.asp Considering that antediluvian federal agencies are hardly exemplars of virtue when it comes to protecting privacy, that has Democratic regulatory enthusiasts complaining. "Government leading by example is just a way for them to avoid privacy legislation," said Rob Atkinson of the Progressive Policy Institute, http://www.ppionline.org/index.cfm a Democratic Leadership Council-affiliated group. "This e-Contract doesn't represent careful thought and analysis of the problems." One area in which the e-Contract is less ambiguous is Net taxes. It doesn't promise an outright ban on such tariffs -- and the existing moratorium expires at the end of the year -- but at least it does say "predatory, or multiple and discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce" are a bad idea. Privacy law outlook: Just a few months ago, online privacy laws seemed inevitable. "I believe that significant privacy legislation is going to be sent to the president this year, and the debate is not, 'Is it going to be sent to the president?' The debate is, 'What is it going to look like?'" Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said in January. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) put it more bluntly: "Privacy legislation is inevitable." But as we told you at the time, conventional wisdom usually isn't very, well, wise. http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,42123,00.html This week, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt was the latest politico to suggest that this may not be the best time to slam the battered tech industry with intrusive new regulations. "I continue to support (the Internet industry's) efforts at self-regulation in this area," Gephardt said, according to UPI. "Responsible companies know intuitively that it's in their deep self-interest to protect the privacy of the consumer, so I believe they have all the incentives they need in order to get this done." That follows FTC Commissioner Thomas Leary's recent remarks on the topic. Leary said: "In my view, there's a new hysteria on this question of privacy." http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV47_STO61130,00.html That means the FTC now has three of five commissioners -- a majority -- in favor of taking a laissez-faire approach toward regulating the private sector's data collection practices. This is a dramatic change from May 2000, when a majority insisted the agency needed more authority from Congress. http://www.politechbot.com/p-01180.html The other two commissioners who have expressed skepticism on expansive new regulations are Orson Swindle and chairman Tim Muris. No surprise: If you post snarlygrams about the Communist Party and happen to live in China, look out. Liu Weifang, 40, was convicted of incitement to subversion by a court in the Turkic Muslim Xinjiang region, Reuters reported this week. Apparently the hapless Liu made the mistake of not using anonymizing technologies before posting "reactionary articles" that criticized China's socialist political system. Henson update: The Electronic Frontier Foundation this week said the conviction of a Scientology critic raises free speech questions. "We are deeply concerned that the decision violates (Keith) Henson's free speech rights," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Since he does not appear to have made any credible threat of physical attack as required for conviction under the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Henson has a legal right to express criticisms online without fearing a prison term."
Henson, http://www.operatingthetan.com/ a well-known computer engineer who has been involved in prior legal skirmishes with Scientology, was found guilty in April of interfering with Scientologists' civil rights and now faces a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $5,000. He fled to Canada and is requesting political asylum. The charges stem from Henson's dogged protesting outside a Scientology center in California and off-color jokes he made about targeting a cruise missile at Scientologists -- an apparent reference to Scientology member Tom Cruise's sex life. http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,44753-2,00.html