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FC: Where Bush and Gore stand on the Internet


Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2000 08:13:41 -0400
To: declan@well.com
From: Doug Isenberg <disenberg@GigaLaw.com>
Subject: Where Bush and Gore Stand on Internet Issues


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Where Bush and Gore Stand on Internet Issues
By Doug Isenberg, GigaLaw.com (http://www.GigaLaw.com)

You certainly can't vote in this year's presidential election online, 
Internet coverage of the Democratic and Republic conventions was largely a 
bust, and -- despite what you may have heard -- neither of the two major 
party candidates (or any other politician, for that matter) invented the 
Internet. So, why should you, the technologically savviest of all voters, 
even bother to cast a ballot next month? And, if you do, for whom should 
you vote?

The answer to the first question, of course, is simple: Every vote counts, 
and this may turn out to be one of the closest presidential elections in 
decades. Regardless of whether you care about the political issues of 
technology, Generation "E" -- which has the best communication tools at its 
disposal -- has an obligation to communicate its voice at the polls.

But the answer to the second question -- who to vote for -- is impossible 
to know.

The answer is impossible for two reasons: First, like all politicians, this 
year's presidential candidates are largely saying things that are intended 
to appeal to the largest number of voters, so uncovering their real 
position on any issue -- let alone nontraditional issues such as Internet 
taxes, privacy, free speech in cyberspace and intellectual property -- is 
difficult to do. Second, even when a candidate is clear on an Internet 
issue, it is not necessarily clear whether that position makes him more or 
less attractive to voters who care about the future of the Internet. Just 
as it is wrong to categorize all people who belong to a particular gender, 
religion or race as united on any issue, so, too, it is wrong to assume 
that all netizens favor a particular tech-related position.

Then, there are those who say that the future of the Internet, and the 
Internet economy, does not depend on whether its Al Gore or George W. Bush 
who gets elected. These pundits argue that entrepreneurship, not the 
government, has brought us to where we are today and that the man who sits 
in the Oval Office will make little difference. While that may be true, 
it's still important to know, before that man takes his seat, exactly where 
he stands.


Early in the primary election season, the one Internet political issue that 
the candidates focused on was taxes, specifically, what to do about sales 
taxes for goods purchased over the Internet. Sen. John McCain criticized 
Bush early on for not joining him in calling for a permanent ban on 
Internet taxes. Bush did endorse a five-year extension of the temporary 
Internet Tax Freedom Act, but his tax talk has largely focused more on 
cutting income taxes and the "marriage penalty" rather than how to treat 
e-commerce taxes. Likewise, Gore has stopped short of endorsing a permanent 
ban but favors the extension and has also called for a worldwide duty-free 
zone in cyberspace for international e-commerce.

So, what's an Internet-intelligent voter to make of the tax issue? On the 
one hand, limiting or eliminating online taxes could certainly increase 
e-commerce sales, but doesn't the Internet offer enough advantages 
(including convenience and selection) that e-commerce will prosper 
regardless? And don't forget the true cost of crippling the sales tax base: 
Those proceeds are used for many important purposes at the local level.


On another issue, online privacy, Gore seized hold of this early, calling 
for an "electronic bill of rights" in May 1998 that would protect the 
disclosure of personal information, which admittedly is threatened by the 
Internet. His running mate, Joe Lieberman, has been criticized for his 
stance, following the Oklahoma City bombing, in favor of giving law 
enforcement increased electronic surveillance tools -- supposedly a threat 
to privacy. The Bush campaign has been quieter about this issue, and 
although it's not entirely fair to criticize a governor for everything that 
occurs in his state, it's worth noting that the well-established Privacy 
Journal ranked Texas last in its most recent survey of how well states 
protect personal privacy.

It's difficult to see how privacy, like any Internet issue, will influence 
the election. If the choice is between increased protection from invasions 
of privacy or increased protection from violent crime (assuming 
"anti-privacy" laws would do so), surely even the most technologically 
devoted will have a lot to think about before casting a vote.

Free Speech

On free speech and the Internet, both political camps have taken the 
politically correct stance, speaking out against violence and pornography 
and the effect on children who spend an increasing amount of time -- often 
unsupervised -- online. The Democratic ticket has called for a "ceasefire" 
in marketing adult material to children and vowed it would seek "tougher 
measures to hold the industry accountable" if necessary, though it's hard 
to imagine how such tougher measures could comply with the First Amendment. 
Lieberman's role as the moral standard-bearer is well-known (and, according 
to the polls, apparently well-received), and he was a co-sponsor of the 
"v-chip" legislation for television controls in 1995. The Republican ticket 
has criticized Gore as a hypocrite for his stance on Hollywood violence, in 
light of contributions he has received from the entertainment industry.

The real issue when examining what type of content is permissible on the 
Internet, though, is what effect a Gore or Bush administration would have 
on the Supreme Court. The reason: Ultimately it's not new laws alone that 
shape this issue but how (or whether) the courts square them with the First 
Amendment. With two to four appointments likely on the Court in the next 
four years, the future of the land's final arbiters of justice has been 
called one of the most important (if not overlooked) issues in this year's 
presidential election. It's unlikely that the landmark decision favoring 
free speech on the Internet, Reno v. ACLU, is in trouble; after all, the 
vote was 9-0. But any winds of change always start slowly.

It's likely, of course, that Bush would seek to appoint conservative 
justices to the Court (who, theoretically, might favor laws that limit 
speech on the Internet), while Gore would appoint liberal justices (who 
might rule against such laws). But predicting how a particular Supreme 
Court nominee might vote on a particular issue is both dangerous and, as we 
have seen, sometimes a crapshoot.

Intellectual Property

On intellectual property laws -- including the well-publicized Napster case 
-- it's hard to know where the candidates stand. Shortly after his 
selection as Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney was asked on a Sunday morning 
talk show what he thought of Napster's legal woes, and Cheney candidly 
admitted that he had no idea. Gore has said he wants to "crack down on 
foreign piracy of U.S. intellectual property" -- an admirable agenda item 
-- but I suspect many of Napster's users 20 million users are here in the 
United States.

Other Issues

While the Napster case has consequences that could affect the future of 
many forms of digital distribution and thus the economy as a whole, it's 
actually comforting to know that candidates for the highest elected offices 
in the land aren't spending their time worrying about Metallica's MP3 
files. Besides, U.S. intellectual property laws are well-established and 
will be shaped most likely by the Congress and the courts, not the by the 
White House.

On other issues, too, the candidates are united: Both favor efforts to 
repair the digital divide, provide computers for students, increase the 
number of visas available for high-tech workers and build up the role of 
government services on the Internet. And each side has its fair share of 
high-profile technology executives: Michael Dell and Jim Barksdale line up 
with Bush; while Marc Andreesen and Reed Hundt line up with Gore.

The differences between the two major party candidates on Internet issues, 
therefore, do not appear to be terribly significant. In my view, the future 
of the Supreme Court is the most important Internet issue in this campaign, 
but to others whose values and livelihoods may be different, the issues 
will, of course, be different. Regardless, one thing is clear: The next 
president of the United States could have a greater effect on shaping the 
future governance of the Internet and the high-tech economy than anyone 
else. So, pull yourself away from your broadband connection for a short 
while on November 7 and cast your ballot -- even if it's on an outdated 
punch card.

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