Clinton Faces 1997 Balancing Act

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Clinton Faces 1997 Balancing Act

The Clinton administration has a tough balancing act ahead which won't be made any easier by presidential adviser Ira Magaziner's draft plan to promote global online commerce.

Any occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. must balance the competing claims of various interests, such as industry executives, union members, consumers, law enforcement officials, students and retirees. Republicans have traditionally aligned themselves with industry, while Democrats - starting with FDR in the '30s - allied with the unions and the economic left.

But this is the 1990s, and the Clinton administration has accepted industry's demands almost everywhere but on the issue of encryption, where FBI officials are firmly defending their limited ability to track messages among criminals and terrorists.

Even on the Congressional law curbing online indecency, the administration has talked out of both sides of its mouth, by defending the law in court while playing up industry's preferred alternative: smut-filtering software.

This administration's tilt toward industry is made clear by Magaziner's draft plan for online commerce, which gives industry the task of building and operating global online commerce, while leaving the U.S. government the task of suppressing taxes and trade barriers. Magaziner even took up industry's cudgel to attack recently retired Sen. James Exon's Internet indecency law by calling for a reliance on smut-filtering software instead of what he called, "government censorship." Is this the same Ira Magaziner who worked with Hillary Clinton in 1994 to extend government influence over the nation's health-care system?

Of course, there is good reason for the government to work with industry. The Internet is propelling the nation's economic growth and promises myriad new technologies and social benefits, and will boost jobs, exports and tax revenues.

For its part, the administration has promoted universal access to the Internet as well as computer-aided education.

But there are other key questions the White House should
resolve despite industry's opposition: What limit should be placed on industry's collection and use of data about citizens' online activities? Should industry have to forgo some control over intellectual property to preserve the citizens' tradition of limited but fair use of books, music and images? Should states be allowed to raise taxes from new online commercial activity? Should rules be crafted to curb online gambling? Who should write the rules governing online fraud-prevention or contract disputes?

So far, the administration is letting industry draft solutions to these problems. So far, the result has been little progress. It is time for the administration to even the balance.


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