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Clinton Makes His Move On The Internet

John Howard reports that it was a long time coming, but Bill Clinton has finally made his move over "unlawful conduct" on the Internet.

Late last week, when reporters and members of Congress were going home for the weekend, Clinton issued one of his now-famous Executive Orders establishing a "working group" with membership which looks like a who's who of the executive branch.

People like the Attorney General, the director of the Office of Managment and Budget, the directors or secretary's of the Treasury, Education, Commerce, FBI, Trade Commission, DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

They must report back to him and the Vice-President within 120 days of the date of the order (August 5). Normally these working groups are allowed a year or more for discussion, study and report. But not this time.

Two further things started alarm bells ringing.

1. The First Lady, Hillary, is on the record last year stating "We are going to have to rethink how we deal with this (Internet) because there are all these competing values." She also deplored the fact that the Internet lacks "any kind of editing function or gatekeeping function."

Is the Internet about to get an official editor or government gatekeeper?

This leads me to point 2.

2. The language in the clauses of the executive order is too broad and could be interpreted very widely by the working group who must report and recommend.

Section1 clause (1) states "The extent to which exisiting Federal laws provide a sufficient basis for effective investigation and prosecution of unlawful conduct that involves the use of the Internet, such as the illegal sale of of guns, explosives, controlled substances, and prescription drugs, as well as fraud and child pornography."

"such as" ? - that could mean anything. Many lovers of free speech and freedom generally would much prefer words used like " to..."

The present wording could leave open to attack, for instance, any "substance" the President determines should be "controlled". Coupled with the words "such as" it may ultimately mean free speech as well.

Many politicians worldwide are known to be deeply concerned that the Internet allows too much free and unfettered speech which they cannot control or put a spin on. As one senior politician recently said to me; " How does society control this new media with around 150 million people surfing each day with not an editor in sight."

In my view, what he was really saying was - how do politicians and government's control it. "Society" generally seems perfectly happy.

President Clinton's executive order merely has "an appreciation" of the Internet as an important medium for commerce and free speech.

The executive order also seems to be seeking a recommendation for the establishment of an Internet police force.

Section 1 (2) states " The extent to which new technology tools, capabilities, or legal authorities may be required for effective investigation and prosecution of unlawful conduct that involves the use of the Internet.

Section 1 (3) states " The potential for new or existing tools and capabilities to educate and empower parents, teachers, and others to prevent or to minimise the risks from unlawful conduct that involves the use of the Internet.

Like almost all executive orders it sounds quite innocuous on a quick first read. But these guys in the Clinton Administration are clever. Remember, President Clinton is a man who questions what the word "is" means - "such as" could mean anything.


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