CAPITAL ROUNDUP

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CAPITAL ROUNDUP

Smut Filters: Civil liberties and free-speech groups are preparing to protest the White House's December summit on smut-filtering technology for Internet computers. But the real swing vote will lie with the communications and online companies, which may promote smut-filtering technology if their concerns about liability risks are assuaged.

Exports: Alarmed by reports of U.S.-made computers being sold to Russian and Chinese weapons centers, Congress has added language to the defense authorization act intended to complicate the export of computers capable of operating faster than 2,000 million theoretical operations per second. The language will further disappoint industry executives, who had high hopes early this year of further relaxing the export rules. The rules, first established during the Cold War, have been relaxed by White House officials as the processing power of desktop computers has grown past the capability of 1980s-era supercomputers.

Privacy: Congress is debating proposed rules for medical privacy prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services. The debate is intended to result in new laws that could boost telemedicine and cut health care costs. Health care groups and information technology companies want uniform national rules to ease the transfer of medical diagnoses and billing information among sites in different states, while privacy advocates want states to be allowed to write tougher rules, even if they interfere with the flow of medical data. Industry and privacy advocates are united on one thing: curbing access to private medical data by law enforcement authorities.

Online Commerce: There's something good and bad for industry in a congressional bill intended to restrict online gambling. The bill, pushed by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would criminalize online gambling - creating more liability risks for online providers - while also declaring online commerce to be interstate commerce, freeing online providers from much state-level taxation.

Nominations: The Senate has approved William Kennard's nomination as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, as well as three new commissioners. Also, the Senate Committee on Finance has approved Charles Rossotti's nomination to head the Internal Revenue Service. And, David Aaron got the nod for the post of undersecretary of commerce for international trade. Since 1996, Aaron has been promoting overseas the White House's controversial encryption policy.

-Neil Munro

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