August 6, 2003 12:36 PM PDT

'Fritz' calls it quits

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Technology advocates this week cheered the impending retirement of Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, a longtime adversary of computer companies and unabashed champion of intrusive new copyright laws.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee until the midterm elections last year gave the Republicans control, Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, was in a position to advance protectionist legislation, impose Internet filtering software, and assail video-game makers. Most memorably, Hollings sided with Hollywood over Silicon Valley when introducing a bill to forcibly implant copy-protection technology in all consumer-electronics devices, a proposal that opponents derisively nicknamed the "Fritz Chip".

Hollings' legislation, formally called the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), united the often-fractious technology community--whose members viewed it as an attempt to hamstring an entire industry in the name of fighting piracy. Last year, Gateway paid for a radio and TV ad campaign opposing the bill, and the chief executives of IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Sybase and other companies wrote a letter to the movie studios arguing against new laws and for "workable market solutions."

In a speech Monday afternoon in Columbia, S.C., Hollings, 81, said he would not seek re-election next year, although he predicted that he would be "working around the clock" until the end of his term in January 2005. "The people of this state have been unusually good to me since I started up in 1948, and I've been elected seven times to the United States Senate. Now it's time for someone else to take over," Hollings said.

Hollings was a friend of competitive local-telephone companies, which expressed sorrow at his planned departure, calling his efforts to enact the 1996 Telecommunications Act "heroic."

"CompTel is saddened that Sen. Hollings has decided not to run for re-election," the Competitive Telecommunications Association said in a statement.

But for many others, Hollings' departure has been a long time coming.

"Everyone in the tech community thought that Sen. Hollings was poisonous," said Sonia Arrison, director of technology policy at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco. "On anything that actually mattered, like privacy and intellectual property, his views were decidedly dinosaur like."

For the 2001-2002 congressional session, Hollings received a 29 percent rating out of 100, according to a scorecard prepared by the Information Technology Industry Council. In the 1999-2000 session, he received a 33 percent rating from a Wired News scorecard.

But at least one piece of Hollings-backed legislation passed muster with the nation's highest court. Hollings co-sponsored a law that required libraries accepting federal funds to install controversial filtering software, a requirement that was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.

Last week, Hollings voted against a free trade agreement with Chile and previously voted against a similar agreement with Singapore. Both measures were supported by hardware and software makers, but Hollings condemned free trade in his farewell speech this week as costing South Carolina the "60,100 textile jobs alone we have lost since NAFTA," a reference to the free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Wendy Seltzer, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Hollings has "been no friend of technology or technology innovation. Perhaps his successor will be in favor of progressive ideas about how not to interfere with technology."

Last year, the EFF launched a campaign against Hollings' Consumer Broadband proposal, asking its activists to "imagine a world where all digital media technology is either mandatory or forbidden."

Hollings' bill--which he did not reintroduce this year after losing his committee chairmanship--would have required federally approved copy protection in all digital devices, from MP3 players to cell phones, fax machines, digital cameras and personal computers.

Hollings also has opposed the Federal Communications Commission's efforts to deregulate broadcast media, suggested new laws to regulate violent video games, and successfully killed the January 2002 merger guidelines inked by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission by arguing they would be too permissive. He also unsuccessfully tried to impose an "opt in" standard to regulate companies' data collection and use practices.

 

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