Capital Roundup

E-Sign Bill Makes Progress<@VM>FTC Privacy Seal Proposed<@VM>Watts Looks at Cybersecurity

Sen. Phil Gramm

By Anne Gallagher

Senate Republicans have drafted a new version of electronic signature legislation, breaking a roadblock that has for weeks stalled a conference with the House on moving an e-sign bill.

The new Senate proposed language, drafted by Sens. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., is expected to make digital signatures legally valid for commercial transactions over the Internet, while still including consumer protection provisions.

Disagreements on naming conferees in the Senate also has held up the bill, with jurisdictional disputes further complicating that process. Now that new draft language has been floated, Hill aides believe the conferees soon will follow. The House named its conferees weeks ago.

High-tech industry officials who have seen the draft language said it represents a good compromise and should have bipartisan support. The Senate version also allows for some level of continued state regulation and oversight regarding e-sign transactions.A group of House lawmakers March 22 introduced a new bill to provide voluntary, basic Internet privacy protections for Internet consumers. The Online Privacy and Disclosure Act, introduced by Reps. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Tom Campbell, R-Calif., allows Web sites to display a Federal Trade Commission-issued seal if they abide by "fair personal information practices."

The bill, Campbell said, will not impose any additional burdens on businesses or create any new lawsuits.

"People are increasingly concerned about guarding their privacy on the Internet, and our bill provides a basic level of privacy protections that can be enforced by the federal government should businesses post the seal, but not abide by these standards," Campbell said. "My goal in introducing this legislation is to provide reliable and uniform privacy assurances for users with minimal government involvement."House Republican Conference Committee Chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma met with top Microsoft Corp. officials March 20 in Seattle to discuss how Congress can work with industry, law enforcement and educators to promote online security.

Watts, who was tapped in February to chair the House Republican Cyber Security Team, met with Microsoft's network security expert Howard Schmidt to discuss the significant rise in hacking activity.

They also discussed the future of the computer industry and how developments, such as the spread of broadband access and other technology, present endless possibilities for consumer and industry but new risks to cybersecurity.

"Microsoft is at the heart of the new economy, and their security team is among the best in the business," Watts said in a statement. "Even as America rushed to prepare last year for the Y2K bug, private experts predicted that cybersecurity would emerge as a national priority in 2000. As chairman, I will work with the Cyber Security Team to ensure that ... Congress takes the appropriate steps to promote online safety."

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