Looking for a cyberlaw legacy

In the last days of their administration, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore issued a voluminous report touting their Internet-related accomplishments. While some of these achievements are truly deserving of recognition, the verdict isn't so favorable on the cyberlaw front. And where the Bush administration will take us in terms of cyberlaw isn't clear.

The past administration's mantra on empowering the growth of e-commerce was that self-regulation would keep laws from impeding that growth. Yet the lack of rules brought uncertainty, friction, disputes and litigation. At the end of the day, this not only failed to foster growth, but it also left the following trouble spots unresolved:

Cybercrime: Viruses and attacks are now reported on practically a daily basis, collectively causing billions of dollars of damage. While some efforts have been made to work with other nations to track down cybercrime perpetrators, much more needs to be done. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act should be amended to allow prosecution of crimes where less than $5,000 in damages has to be proved. And it should make it easier to get the trap-and-trace orders needed to track down cybercriminals and to allow the prosecution of juveniles under federal law in certain circumstances. Congress has considered these ideas, but the new administration must provide leadership to move them forward.

Spam: Neither the past administration nor Congress provided sufficient leadership on limiting unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Instead, a number of states have started passing their own laws. Yet, this can't solve the problem because it's nearly impossible to tailor Internet conduct to laws that, unlike the Internet, differ geographically.

Tax: Last year's extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act continued a moratorium on certain Internet-related taxes as a further effort to foster e-commerce. This, despite the tremendous outcry by state and local governments that complained they were losing tax revenue and by traditional businesses that complained they were operating at a disadvantage to Web businesses. It will be up to the new administration to deal with further complaints, although there may be fewer following the crash of the dot-coms.

Antitrust: The past administration was active on the antitrust front, at least insofar as prosecuting Microsoft for alleged violations. The conventional wisdom is that the Department of Justice under President Bush may be more willing to settle under terms that are less onerous to Microsoft and may generally take a light hand when it comes to antitrust enforcement.

It isn't at all clear what other type of leadership the current administration will take elsewhere on cyberlaw. President Bush hasn't spoken out much on cyberlaw issues. However, his administration must demonstrate leadership to help map out the Internet rules of the road, many of which have yet to be defined.

These rules must be carefully crafted in appropriate areas and in a way that affords legal protection while supporting technological advances and growth -- and that leadership must come from the top.

This story, "Looking for a cyberlaw legacy" was originally published by Computerworld.

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