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New Congress Will Face Important Internet Issues

on 12/29/00.

Online privacy, taxation and copyright reform are among three key Internet-related issues on the agenda when the new Congress begins work as early as next month, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Even though dot-com stock values are plummeting and new-economy layoffs have become part of a daily news cycle, there is little doubt the Internet is having a fundamental impact on the way the nation lives and does business. Consumers this year are expected to spend $10 billion this year buying products online, the newspaper said.

"What politician wants to be against the Internet?" asks Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association.

Congress is expected to debate a new law that would limit the ability of companies to buy, sell or trade sensitive financial data, such as credit card numbers and credit information.

Businesses groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will likely lobby against the effort, insisting that companies are policing themselves, The Post said.

Another issue the new Congress is sure to take up is the moratorium on Internet taxation. A three-year ban on states enacting taxes specific to Internet transactions expires in October, and legislators must decide whether to extend the ban or make it permanent

But since Internet-related taxes have not yet been built into local budgets, it is painless to extend the moratorium.

"It is not going to shut down schools. It is not going to eliminate fire trucks," said Erick Gustafson of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a conservative free-market advocacy group.

As for copyright reform, Congress faces the difficult task of protecting the rights of copyright holders while ensuring that copyright does not get in the way of exciting new technologies.

Tens of millions of Web surfers have discovered that it is easier to download a song for free from Napster's Web site than it is to buy it in a store. Despite their popularity, Napster and other Web sites are struggling for survival in the face of lawsuits from the major record companies, which claim the sites aid and abet the theft of copyrighted material.