Place Your Bets on the 1999
1998 was a year that may end up being the first year that Internet and IT policy was taken seriously (I don't count '96 and'97 due to the CDA circus). Tax issues and Y2K issues drove a decent portion of the policy debates and, in many ways, showed Congress is getting serious about legislation for the IT and Internet community in a productive manner (i.e., non-CDA-like manner).
So while we can expect to see this trend continue in 1999 we should also realize that it's difficult for legislators to move as fast as the Internet community. Well, probably impossible.
So here are my bets for some of the more serious Internet policy issues for that our government will continue to debate this year:
Internet Security - Announcement: conventional war will be ending in about a month and all war will now take place on the Internet. Okay, perhaps some soothsayers go a bit too far but this is a serious issue on both the government and corporate levels. There will be some serious backroom talk on this one. Here's hoping it doesn't turn into a civil liberties issue (it's possible - really).
Y2K - A no-brainer. Expect to see talk regarding additional legislation on Y2K liability, government compliance, and related issues.
Encryption - The tide is starting to turn toward a more realistic direction as lawmakers realize you can't control code on the Internet (and that RSA realized it can simply sell its software from Australia). However, there will be continuing legislative debate on this issue (look for a title match between Louis Freeh and every trade association in D.C.).
Privacy - A real constituent issue; this is an issue that will continue to grow. The Internet has opened a Pandora's Box and showed many consumers just have private their life is NOT. Debate will center on compliance issues, such as notification, and privacy enforcement. The SPAM issue may also be brought in here (e.g., when do marketers have a right to use your personal e-mail address).
Family-friendly/public-enemy policy - A crowd pleaser on Capitol Hill. A few policy makers (yet fewer than last year) will continue to use scare monger tactics to please the polls. Of course, a favorite topic is that "Internet porn" that must be locked away globally to protect children (apparently since parents can't be trusted to use protective features - now who's being treated like a child?). I'll go out on a limb here and say that this issue won't get out of control. Hopefully, that won't be just wishful thinking.
Authors note: Please note that depending on how my picks pan out, I hereby possibly deny all knowledge that this column was ever written. Ephraim Cohen is a public relations and public affairs consultant specializing in communications technology with Edelman Public Relations Worldwide.
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