Clinton Calls A Summit on Internet Smut (washpost)

Rohit Khare (
Mon, 7 Jul 1997 13:21:22 -0400 (EDT)

Clinton Calls A Summit on Internet Smut; Voluntary Plan Urged To
Protect Children

Peter Baker and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Copyright 1997, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved
The Washington Post, Wednesday July 2, 1997
A Section; Page A06

Just days after the Supreme Court threw out a ban on Internet
indecency, President Clinton said yesterday he will summon industry
leaders, educators and parent representatives to the White House to
develop a voluntary plan for denying children access to
inappropriate material.
Clinton hopes to use the stature of his office to accomplish
what federal law could not, putting pressure on the industry to
police itself in the absence of any direct government intervention.
The strategy mimics the formula Clinton used last year to persuade
television executives to adopt a ratings system after years of
"It is especially important . . . to give parents and
teachers the tools they need to make the Internet safe for
children," the president said during an East Room ceremony where he
presented a broad Internet policy that eschews new regulation across
the board. "A hands-off approach to electronic commerce must not
mean indifference when it comes to raising and protecting children."
As a general matter, the widely previewed White House report
issued yesterday attempts to find a way to nurture a global
electronic network that will become vital to hundreds of millions of
people for everyday tasks and generate up to $1 trillion in business
per year by 2010.
To encourage that technological and economic revolution,
Clinton vowed to make the Internet a "global free trade zone"
without new taxes or tariffs and with a minimum of government
intrusion, a policy described by Vice President Gore as a "digital
Hippocratic oath -- first do no harm."
At the same time, though, Clinton said the Internet has become
"the Wild West of the global economy" and in selective areas needs
to be reined in to "make sure that it's safe and stable terrain for
those who wish to trade on it." In that vein, he directed his
administration to develop basic consumer and copyright protections
to be adopted within the next 12 months, even as it negotiates
international agreements to ensure that Internet products and
services are not subject to tariffs in other nations. At least as
it applies to racy material on the World Wide Web, the free-market
approach contrasts sharply to the direction Clinton embraced in his
first term, when he signed the Communications Decency Act
restricting content to which children might have access on the
network. Last week, the Supreme Court overturned those limits,
saying they were so broad they violated First Amendment free speech
rights of adults.
But Clinton is unwilling to surrender what his advisers
consider the political high ground on the family values issue and
wants to use his bully pulpit to forge an industry consensus at a
meeting later this month. White House deputy chief of staff John D.
Podesta said that by getting personally involved Clinton "can really
give some energy to these private-sector efforts, which ought to
result in much quicker and wider distribution of the tools which the
parents need."
In February 1996, a similar White House summit with television
executives produced an industry agreement to adopt a ratings system
similar to that used for feature films, although critics complained
the ratings are too vague and revisions are now being contemplated.
Unlike television, the electronics industry has exhibited far
more willingness to find a common solution and has been developing
technology along those lines. Current software allows parents to
filter the material their children can access over the Internet, and
researchers are working on technology to integrate that ability into
the architecture of the Internet.
The software, with names such as SurfWatch and NetNanny, is
growing in popularity, but is still not used by most parents,
according to industry analysts. Officials hope the publicity
surrounding the White House meeting will encourage more parents to
use it.
Another system being devised by the Boston-based World Wide
Web Consortium for possible completion next year would allow parents
to adjust the "browsing" software that runs on their home computers
so it would either block sites with adult ratings or show only sites
rated acceptable for children. Different organizations could rate
sites and make their lists available via the Internet.
Both sides of the Supreme Court fight welcomed Clinton's plan
to meet.
"The bully pulpit of the White House will lead to public
education and more deployment" of screening software, said Jerry
Berman, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which
opposed the decency act. Filtering software "can be the solution
for giving parents options for keeping their kids away from
objectionable content."
Donna Rice Hughes, spokeswoman for Enough is Enough, an
anti-pornography group, called the summit "a great idea that will
bring about a much-needed dialogue." But she criticized the
administration for backing away from new regulations on Internet
content. "It is imperative that we have a legal tool where the
government can require adults, including pornographers and
pedophiles, to take good faith efforts to segregate their
information away from children," she said.
In general, computer industry executives who attended the
White House event hailed the administration's opposition to
additional taxes on online transactions. "We're not asking for
preferential tax treatment -- just neutral tax treatment," said
Louis V. Gerstner Jr., chief executive of International Business
Machines Corp.
Yet significant disagreement remains over government
restrictions on the export of software with code scrambling, or
|encryption, technology. Software companies want the rules relaxed,
but law enforcement officials argue that widespread use of the
technology could hinder their efforts to gather evidence against
suspected criminals -- a position endorsed by the White House.
"We're not pleased with that section," said Randall C.
Whiting, chief executive of CommerceNet Inc., a consortium of
businesses that use the Internet. "We think there's still work to
be done in that area."