Last modified: October 23, 1998 2:30 PM PDT
What Congress really did
With the end of the 105th Congress, online and computer industry lobbyists celebrated some significant victories. During the final hours this session, the tide turned toward stakeholders in the so-called New Economy, but government and industry observers say a lot of work remains to be done when it comes to such issues as privacy, encryption, and unsolicited bulk email.
In fact, while some legislation set groundbreaking rules for future business on the Net, a closer look at the new high-tech laws reveals that some are merely interim, partial solutions to huge ongoing problems.
On Wednesday, President Clinton ushered most of the tech legislation into law by signing a critical $500 billion federal spending bill that Congress had made into a pork sandwich, slapping on last-minute fixings like a three-year Net tax ban and more visas for foreign engineers and other highly skilled workers. Clinton also approved a congressional probe into sexism in the technology and science fields, online privacy protections for preteens, and a bill to push forward the government's use of digital signatures.
But remaining are some decidedly loose ends.
The president has yet to sign a handful of standalone bills, including a sweeping update of the copyright law that gives new protections for digital works and makes it a crime to create or sell any technology that could be used to break copyright protection devices or to commit an act of circumvention.
Also queued for passage is a bill to limit shareholder lawsuits against companies with volatile stock prices and legislation to impose stricter punishments for using the Net to sexually solicit minors, knowingly send "obscene" material to a person under 16, or transmitting child porn online.
"These bills basically ensure the continued growth of the Internet and also encourage people to make use of these new technologies," said Pia Pialorsi, a spokeswoman for the Senate Commerce Committee, the de facto gatekeeper for Net bills.
Passage of the high-tech laced budget bill was bittersweet for some Net factions, however.
For example, it contained the controversial Child Online Protection Act to require commercial site operators who offer "harmful" material to either check visitors' identifications or face up to $50,000 in fines and six months in prison each time a minor gets access to the content. Civil liberties groups already filed a lawsuit to overturn the law.
This major First Amendment scrape aside, the high-tech industry squeaked most of its issues by Congress and eventually came out ahead. Now the question is whether the proposals will be effective and what will top the agenda next year.