SAN FRANCISCO -- Ira Magaziner, senior advisor to President Clinton for policy development, said today that if the Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling against the Communications Decency Act and Congress introduced similar legislation to replace it, he would advise the president to veto the new law.
"I would recommend that any [derivative of the CDA, which outlaws the transmission of 'patently offensive' content to children over the Internet] that is passed should be vetoed," Magaziner said in a question-and-answer period following his keynote speech here at the Seventh Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy.
Although he prefaced his remarks by calling them his "personal opinion," Magaziner, who heads a task force that is drafting a U.S. policy statement on global electronic commerce, said of the hotly contested CDA, "I don't think it's a good act."
Perhaps best known for spearheading the Clinton administration's sweeping proposal to overhaul the nation's health-care system in the president's first term, Magaziner used his keynote to outline the major points in the commerce policy statement, several of which seemed to be at odds with previous administration efforts.
He said the draft policy statement, posted at www.iitf.nist.gov/, calls for a uniform worldwide commercial code to govern online transactions that would be optional for Internet vendors; sets forth the government's opposition to duties and taxes on online transactions; opposes government censorship of the Internet; and states there should be no single technical standard for Internet commerce hardware and software.
The draft statement proposes a ratings system for online content similar to the ratings system now in place for TV shows, Magaziner said, although it ultimately calls for parents to control their children's access to the Internet. But the CDA, passed in February 1996 as part of the administration's Telecommunications Act and awaiting review by the Supreme Court, makes it a crime to post explicit materials that could be accessed by minors.
The hands-off approach Magaziner outlined in his address was met with skepticism by conference attendees, several of whom asked the administration official to explain the dichotomy between his statements and those of the Justice Department, which appealed last summer's ruling against the CDA to the Supreme Court.
"Notwithstanding the CDA, which for now is the law of the land, we are making it very clear that we oppose government censorship of the Internet," Magaziner said. He reiterated that he personally favored promoting the use of filtering software to safeguard minors from online content their parents might find objectionable.
The administration opposes government regulation of electronic payment systems, although it favors some safeguards against fraudulent online transactions, he added. A single technical standard for the software and hardware products that allow online commerce would actually hamper economic development, he said.
"We think the market should decide" which standard is best, said Magaziner.
The administration supports the recently ratified World Intellectual Property Organization treaty on intellectual property protection but it does not back a proposed treaty on regulating the use of databases, Magaziner said.
Although a final version of the online commerce policy statement is expected to be signed by President Clinton by the end of April, agreement on U.S. policy about the privacy concerns of Internet users is farther off, he said.
"The consumer should have the power to control what happens to sensitive information," such as medical records, and penalties for the misuse of such records should be instituted, he said. Administration officials also hold that information about children should be subjected to different standards from that about adults in the online world, but specific proposals have not yet been made.
"I'm pretty nervous about the idea of my 10-year-old going online and giving out information about himself or our family," Magaziner said.
Administration policy regarding encryption also is expected to be the subject of continuing debate. E-mail responses to the draft paper were overwhelmingly positive in every area except the section on encryption, where comments were solidly against the current policy of keeping some control over exports of strong encryption products, Magaziner said.
The CFP conference continues here through this week.