Lieberman says IT should police itself

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. -- The technology industry should be allowed to continue to set its own policies related to online privacy and government should hold off taxing Internet commerce for two to five years, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman said last week.

Sen. Lieberman was interviewed on stage by Gartner Group CEO Michael Fleisher at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo 2000 event in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Lieberman is a senator from Gartner's home state of Connecticut. Dick Cheney, the Republican running for vice president with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, was invited as well, but said he could not attend.

Although Lieberman and running mate Vice President Al Gore pledge that the hands-off approach to the Internet and the technology industry will largely prevail if they are elected, there would be some changes.

"I am personally committed to creating a chief information officer in government to coordinate our efforts," Lieberman said, adding that he also would like to see more interoperability among the federal government's Web sites.

A Gore-Lieberman administration would further push for capital investments in the "new economy," with emphasis on funding science and technology. He said the administration would support Internet investment, joking that Gore did not create the Internet, referring to a frequently misquoted comment the vice president once made. However, Gore was an early supporter of initial investment in the Internet when he was a U.S. senator representing Tennessee.

Lieberman, who cosponsored legislation creating a tax moratorium, was asked about his current thinking on e-commerce taxation. He conceded, "it's not a question of if, it's a question of when" as far as taxing Internet commerce goes.

He wants to see the moratorium continue for at least a few more years, although "eventually we're going to have to deal with this issue," he said.

The problem, though, is there are 70,000 taxing authorities in the U.S. that could lay claim to a piece of the Internet tax pie because of points of distribution when something is purchased over the Internet, Lieberman said.

State and local governments, along with traditional retailers, will continue to lead the call for Internet taxation, arguing that it isn't fair that goods bought on the Web remain untaxed while taxes are paid on items bought at physical stores. The ideal solution is to create a tax that is equitable across localities, Lieberman said.

Equally tricky is the issue of online privacy, particularly regarding medical records and personal finance information. Internet users who object to having their personal information gathered and used need to be able to stop that practice if they want to, meaning choices have to be offered to them, Lieberman said.

"The best way to go is for this to happen in the private sector -- for you all to acknowledge and anticipate the problem," he said. If the industry doesn't deal with the privacy issue "then there will be a much more aggressive attempt to legislate."

Lieberman proposed an annual audit conducted by the inspector general or some outside agency that would be charged with reviewing Web site privacy policies and making certain that they are adequate.

This story, "Lieberman says IT should police itself" was originally published by Network World.

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