A Noticeable Omission on the Agenda

24 December 1998

When Congress gears up in early 1999, the Senate will be moving forward with a variety of internet related bills. Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah has enumerated his list of "e-commerce" priorities which include issues related to privacy and databases as well as concerns about the purchase of alcohol over the 'net. Guess what's missing? There's no mention of the Senator Kyl's sure to reemerge Internet Gambling Prohibition bill on the list.

Attached is the full text of Senator Hatch's agenda.

United States Senate - Senator Orrin Hatch Chairman
November 28, 1998

Hatch Announces E-Commerce Agenda for 106th Congress

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman today announced his committee agenda for E-Commerce issues for the 106th Congress. Issues are summarized below:

Under the leadership of Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the Judiciary Committee will continue to advance an ambitious e-Commerce agenda. During the 105th, the Judiciary Committee, working in a bipartisan manner, acted on a number of matters aimed at fostering the growth of the internet and promoting competition in the new digital environment.

First, the Judiciary Committee won passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which put in place the most significant revisions to U.S. copyright law since the enactment of the 1976 Copyright Act, The DMCA laid the cornerstone for a rich and more vibrant Internet by ensuring the owners of copyrighted works, such as books, movies, music, software, photographs and graphic arts, the certainty and safeguards they need to venture into e-Commerce and the global networked digital superhighway. Second, the Judiciary Committee initiated a still ongoing, thorough public examination of important issues affecting competition and innovation in the digital marketplace. The Committee’s focused inquiry into the alleged anticompetitive practices of Microsoft proved to be an important prelude to the Department of Justice’s ongoing, historic antitrust case. In addition, the Committee also provided legislative assistance to industry in our national effort to prepare for the Y2K problem by crafting and passing legislation to allow businesses and local governments to share YZK remediation information with limited fear of liability.

During the 106th Congress, Sen. Hatch plans to maintain the Committee’s lead role in Internet and e-Commerce issues by continuing to pursue legislative and oversight initiatives aimed at facilitating the growth of the Internet and ensuring that individual user’s privacy rights are protected. More specifically, Sen. Hatch expects the agenda to address the following issues.

*Internet Privacy Protection: As the Internet’s new digital medium continues to grow, we must ensure that consumers are confident that personally identifiable information which they submit electronically are afforded adequate levels of privacy protection. As consumer confidence in the security of their personal and financial information is enhanced, Internet users will be more willing to go online, make purchases over the Internet and generally provide personal information required by businesses and organizations over the Internet. The Judiciary Committee expects to examine the adequacy of Internet privacy protection and will, where necessary, advance reforms aimed at insuring greater privacy protection. For example, the Committee expects to examine the following:

  1. How are privacy concerns impacting the growth of e-Commerce (in the financial services industry, in the insurance industry, in online retailing, etc.) and the deployment of new technologies that could further the growth of, and consumer access to, the Internet?
  2. Does Congress need to amend criminal or civil rights laws to address consumer electronic privacy concerns?
  3. Does U.S. encryption policy negatively affect the growth of e-Commerce?
  4. What is the impact of the European Union’s Internet Privacy Directive on U.S. industry and e-Commerce?
  5. Can federal law enforcement, particularly civil rights enforcers, play a larger role in safeguarding the privacy concerns of Internet users?
  6. To what extent can web-sites and government agencies track the Internet activities of individual users and what should be done to ensure greater protection of personally identifiable or financially sensitive data?

Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age: The Committee will continue to examine the important role proper and timely enforcement of federal antitrust laws can have on fostering both competition and innovation, while minimizing the need for government regulation of the Internet. One area of inquiry will be the question of what remedies should be imposed in cases where, notwithstanding the generally dynamic and competitive nature of Internet-related industries, high technology companies have been found to have violated the antitrust laws. The Committee will also review the increasing legal tension in the high technology industry between intellectual property rights and antitrust laws particularly where firms are permitted to protect and enforce their intellectual property rights, on the one hand, but are subjected to antitrust scrutiny for abusing intellectual property in an alleged monopolistic fashion, on the other.

*Y2K and Innocent User Protection: The Committee plans to follow on the remediation legislation it enacted in the 105th Congress by considering additional mechanisms aimed at encouraging the marketplace to resolve Y2K-related disputes and problems more quickly and efficiently. The objective of any Y2K Innocent User Protection (IUP) effort should be to establish a market climate which quickly brings solutions to the innocent users of computers with Y2K defects. The Committee will consider whether, in trying to minimize and handle expected Y2K-related litigation, there is a role for alternative dispute resolution, special fact-finding masters, and special courts so that solutions to individual problems can be developed and made available more readily to innocent users.

*Database Protection: The Committee will continue its consideration of legislative proposals to provide greater legal protection for the owners of databases -- information that has been collected and has been organized for the purpose of bringing discrete items of information together in one place or through one source. Access to information on the Internet may be hindered if databases, which cannot receive copyright protection, are not placed online due to a lack of reasonable legal protection against theft. The Committee will consider and can expect to move legislation which will provide adequate legal protection to database owners in those instances where the owner suffers market harm while safeguarding the interests of educators, researchers, and commercial skeptics.

*Broadband: Important new technologies are being developed for high-speed access to the Internet. Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable modems are two leading examples. The Committee plans to examine important competition and equal access issues raised by these new “broadband” technologies. Some of the areas likely to be examined include: What obligations, if any, do local phone monopolies have to allow other Internet Access Providers equal, non-discriminatory access to DSL technology? Where cable companies are able to provide broadband services as a structural broadband competitor, to what extent, if any, should they be obligated to offer competing content access to their customers?

Domain Names: The Committee will examine how to accomplish the difficult task of transitioning the assignment of domain names from a single company to a competitive, market-based system. How to do so is a difficult, but important, matter with significant antitrust and intellectual property ramifications for industry and consumers. The Committee expects to review existing proposals as well as the results of an eagerly anticipated National Research Council study mandated by legislation sponsored by the Committee’s Ranking Member, Sen. Patrick Leahy.

*First Amendment and Speech in the Digital Age: The rise of the Internet offers a radically new media not just for commerce but also for speech, broadcasting and advertising. Such conduct has traditionally been subject to government regulation of various forms, when engaged in conventional media. Their new use via the Internet raises a whole set of new First Amendment issues surrounding how the government can or should extend traditional regulations to these activities in this new medium. Is Internet programming a broadcast and should it, therefore, be subject to the same regulatory requirements as broadcasters? Is a web site an “advertisement?” What are the lengths and limits to which content laws in various states and foreign countries can reach extra-territorial Web activity?

*Internet Sales of Alcohol: The Committee will examine the extent to which the growing number of Internet sites that sell beer, wine, and liquor circumvent state and local laws regarding the sale and distribution of such products The Committee will consider what, if any, legislative response is necessary.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.