This could well go down in history as the summer the U.S. government finally woke up and recognized electronic commerce as something more than a passing fad.
As the headlines harp on with the theme of dot-com mayhem and new economy crisis, the government is quietly increasing its role in the development and promotion of online selling.
Is it a good thing — or a dreaded inevitability — that the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress have aggressively stepped up their participation in e-commerce?
If the cynics can keep their minds open until the government has a chance to prove itself, perhaps some of the recently announced government initiatives will benefit the masses.
Here are a few of the initiatives in the works:
- Attorney General John Ashcroft announced last week an aggressive approach to fighting cybercrime via 10 new units controlled by the Justice Department. Some might have found the timing of his announcement suspect, since it took place on the very day that hackers nearly succeeded in compromising the official White House Web site. Even so, Ashcroft’s war on cybercrime promises to prosecute crimes including corporate espionage, hacking and copyright infringement among others.
- While the headlines emphasized social unrest during last week’s Group of Eight Summit in Genoa, Italy, the U.S. government was inside pledging $100 million to back a new task force report about bringing new technology to developing and poor countries. Included in the action points will be a look at encouraging online entrepreneurship among struggling populations.
Security & Privacy
Meanwhile, the government is busy tackling two pressing Internet issues: cyber-security and individual privacy.
Earlier this month, President George W. Bush said he would form a board of officials to oversee issues related to Internet security. That move effectively eliminates previous leanings toward a cyber-security “czar” and expands the government’s reach via intelligence agencies and representatives from the Commerce and State departments.
At the same time, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has started work on an Internet privacy bill to protect online users and shoppers.
Critics of the privacy legislation, citing the legislators’ lack of knowledge about technological capabilities and loopholes, ask if elected officials can properly craft technology policies when most of them are not well-educated about its capabilities.
Good question. Some suggest before mounting such broad-sweeping legislation, the senators should more carefully study the technology that drives the Internet, as well as consumer online behavior.
The Bipartisan Internet
Although teaching the lawmakers how e-commerce works is critical, the upside is that the Internet is turning out to be a force so mighty that it actually brings together disparate political parties and philosophies.
Earlier this month, Senators Conrad Burns (R-Montana) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut)joined forces to unveil the proposed E-Government Act of 2001. The legislation would put governmental use of technology on the fast track to set standards and protocol.
According to Lieberman, consumers will benefit by an increase of online resources and a decrease in the amount of time it would take to use them.
The Big One
And of course, who can forget October? That’s the month the current moratorium on Internet taxation expires. Again, legislators are struggling to come to consensus on the issues.
Other than privacy and crime, taxing the Internet will most directly affect the continued growth of fledgling e-commerce companies. And again, some critics believe those with the power to drive such legislation are collectively uneducated about the issues at hand.
It is, critics argue, a prime example of Old Economy thinkers graced with the decision-making power for New Economy issues.
Some observers shudder at the thought of “e-commerce” and “government” in the same sentence. However, such narrow thinking is unrealistic. Government is going to be involved in online business — that goes without question.
The point is that now is the time for consumers and business owners to speak up about the issues which will directly affect them and get things headed in the right direction, by working with government officials to define and resolve the e-commerce issues of the day.
If anything, those outside of government need to be at least as educated or more about the issues and make their opinions known.
Not sure how to do that? Easy. Drop your legislators an e-mail. For the addresses of your representatives, check out the Library of Congress directory.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.