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Clinton calls for Net privacy

  • Valley visit: President urges the high-tech industry to protect `ordinary folks.'

    Mercury News Staff Writer

    President Clinton challenged Silicon Valley's ``technology whizzes'' Friday to better protect the privacy and security of everyone using the Internet.

    ``This is a big deal to people. Ordinary folks, even people who aren't online yet, are very excited about the prospects of this age so many of you have done so much to create,'' Clinton told a group of business and community leaders in San Jose. ``But they are really concerned about this. They are afraid they will have no place to hide.''

    The president also asked those assembled at Novell Inc.'s conference center -- 250 luminaries from the worlds of high tech, government and education -- to help all Americans become technologically literate and gain access to the online world.

    It's a tall order, but Clinton -- who has benefited from the longest economic expansion in U.S. history because of the explosion of technology -- seemed confident it can be done. ``We actually have a chance to let everyone ride along with the American economy,'' he said.

    To these burning tech issues, Clinton added an unrelated but timely plea: that Congress pass gun safety legislation, particularly in light of the two tragic shooting incidents this week.

    ``For eight months, there's been no action on this legislation,'' the president told the forum, sponsored by the Aspen Institute. He urged Congress to ``send me the bill in the next few days.''

    But the information age was the primary focus of the president's 30-minute talk.

    And when it comes to privacy and security, Clinton put his mantra where his mouth is.

    He has ordered all government agencies to improve the security of their computer systems, especially against the denial-of-service attacks that shut down a number of high-profile Web sites last month. Those agencies, he said, will report back to him by April 1.

    In the wake of the recent fiasco linked to DoubleClick Inc., Clinton asked industry leaders to improve privacy protection on the Internet and regulate themselves.

    The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating whether DoubleClick, which sells and delivers advertising to Web sites, engaged in unfair or deceptive practices in gathering information about Internet users. On Thursday, the company dropped its plan to connect data on Web surfers' habits with their names and other information until the industry and the government establish privacy standards.

    Clinton said Web sites' privacy policies should notify users about what information is collected and how it will be used. They should also give users a choice about whether personal information will be shared with third parties, provide users access to the information the site has collected on them and ensure the security of that information.

    ``We know we have to keep cyberspace open and free because it sparks creativity and innovation, because its infinite networks can do so much to bring us together,'' said the president. But, he added, ``freedom requires a certain space of privacy.''

    He urged Internet companies to review and tighten their privacy policies voluntarily.

    However, Clinton said some subjects, such as medical and financial records and any interactions with children online, are so sensitive they should have legal protection.

    Finally, in his appeal to ``close the fault line between those who have access to computers and to the Internet and those who do not,'' Clinton said he will hit the road this spring to mobilize private industry to help solve the problem.

    He is also asking Congress for $2 billion in tax incentives over 10 years for companies that donate computers and train technology workers. And he is seeking additional funding to train teachers and establish 1,000 community technology centers so more adults can participate in the information economy.

    Some at the conference said that they thought the high-tech industry would support Clinton's specific suggestions, especially on matters of privacy.

    Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Novell and one of the co-chairs of the forum, said Clinton made himself clear about the need to protect children online and guard the privacy of medical and financial records.

    ``His argument was that the average person cares about those things, and I agree with that. It makes sense,'' Schmidt said.

    But if Clinton had made a broader call for government intervention, it would have created some controversy, he said.

    ``We always have this concern that government will somehow get in the way, but certainly the tone of the administration's message is consistent with a light touch.''

    William Kennard, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, agreed.

    ``There is a huge role here for corporate responsibility to make sure that consumer needs are met,'' he said.

    ``You don't need to regulate when market forces are aligned appropriately to solve a problem, and we're not going to regulate if the industry is going to act responsibly.''

    -- Norm (, March 04, 2000

  • Answers

    Why does this man continually say one thing but do another? More privacy on the internet, huh? Is that why Reno is calling for more $ to police the internet, and echelon is probably monitoring this forum as we speak?

    -- J (Y2J@home.comm), March 04, 2000.

    Thats how Clinton got to stay 8 years in power, by saying one thing publicly and doing the opposite behind the scenes. The sheeples are happy and soothed, and the power clicks have their way.

    This "challenge" speech is simply show. There are many good techies hard at work to protect our privacy and security on the net already, for free. American spirit. I'm using one such free software called ZoneAlarm, and I keep on learning and getting help with Steve Gigson's most excellent site on internet security and privacy. Internet users need to spread around those kind of sites, so the slew of newbies entering the net each day get the word.

    -- Chris (@#$, March 04, 2000.


    Is Zone Alarm only for cable modems/DSL?

    -- J (Y2J@home.comm), March 04, 2000.

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