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FC: Where John Ashcroft stands on technology: A mixed bag


   Top Cop Arrives With Mixed Bag
   by Declan McCullagh (declan@wired.com)
   2:00 a.m. Jan. 5, 2001 PST
   For liberal Democrats, John Ashcroft is a maddening symbol of
   everything wrong with a George W. Bush presidency -- from the former
   senator's staunch opposition to abortion to his alleged insensitivity
   regarding race.
   To conservatives, Bush's nominee for attorney general represents
   precisely the opposite extreme: A respected leader who will restore
   integrity to a Justice Department brought low by the Clinton
   administration. Ashcroft opposes background checks at gun shows,
   supports increased penalties for drug offenses and would not prohibit
   discrimination based on sexual orientation.
   On technology issues, Ashcroft's record as a Missouri governor and
   senator is mixed. He seems genuinely to believe in privacy rights and
   economic liberty, and has taken a moderate position on intellectual
   property and fair-use rights.
   But free-speech groups already are girding themselves for the legal
   equivalent of trench warfare, predicting that newly emboldened
   Department of Justice prosecutors will launch an assault on sexually
   explicit material online. And Microsoft foes fret that the antitrust
   division's commitment to the high-profile antitrust case may wane.
   On one point everyone can agree: More than any other Cabinet member,
   the next attorney general will be in a position to make crucial
   decisions with far-reaching effects on antitrust enforcement, privacy
   protections and free speech rights.
   "An Ashcroft DOJ could be a decidedly mixed bag for the high-tech
   sector since he will be engaged in a constant balancing act on most
   industry issues," says Adam Thierer, an analyst at the free-market
   Cato Institute who's well connected in Republican technology circles.
   "While Ashcroft has a very strong record of support for loosening
   encryption controls, he may be faced with pressure from GOP
   law-and-order types to moderate his views on this and also be willing
   to continue, or even expand FBI efforts like Carnivore," Thierer said.
   Make that a near certainty. It's a fair bet that pro-law enforcement
   conservatives in the mold of wiretap-happy Rep. Bill McCollum of
   Florida, who unsuccessfully ran for the state's open Senate seat, will
   view a Republican DOJ as an opportunity to expand government
   surveillance and wiretapping powers.
   Liberal Democrats have vowed opposition to Ashcroft's nomination --
   People for the American Way even assembled a detailed criticism of the
   nominee -- but privately confide that they don't expect to
   successfully block his confirmation by the Senate.
   Wiretapping and Carnivore:
   Under Attorney General Janet Reno, a DOJ panel has reviewed the FBI's
   controversial Carnivore surveillance system and extended a tentative
   blessing. But critics panned the review board as uniformly
   pro-government, as first reported by Wired News, and independent
   researchers refused to participate in the process.
   Ashcroft is the former two-term attorney general and two-term governor
   of Missouri. During his time there, he cemented his reputation as a
   solid conservative eager to lower taxes and build new prisons.


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