Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
July 13, 1997

Estimated printed pages: 4

As a technician for a local Internet service provider, Hillary Gorman said 
she has seen them all, from junk e-mailers to online pornographers, and 
those trying to stop them - a parade of ``people trying to pervert the 
system for their own purposes.''

For all the annoyance, however, Gorman, who works at Net Access in 
Glenside, hopes never to see the Net handed over to regulators. Yet with 
all its problems and potential, she knows the free-wheeling Internet 
remains a ripe target.

``Some people want all the power, all the glory,'' she said.

So the question persists: Will anybody or anything, besides chaos, ever 
rule the Net? The answer remains unclear.

The White House now says it wants to keep government out of Internet 
regulation to foster global electronic commerce. The Supreme Court, in a 
case involving online smut, has ruled that government can't fetter the 
Internet because it is a form of speech. Essentially, both the executive 
and the judiciary branches of government say that what happens in 
cyberspace should be determined by each individual sitting at a computer 

On the other hand, members of Congress have promised or proposed about 30 
bills to rein in the Internet in matters from taxation to pornography to 
junk e-mail.

And other nations have weighed in as well.

Last week, 26 European countries issued a broad declaration on Internet 
policy. In many respects it echoed the generally hands-off words of a 
White House policy paper issued July 1. Still, a central principle of the 
declaration said that what is illegal off-line is also illegal online. 
Conflicts between nations on Internet policy are sure to arise where, as 
in this case, their laws differ.

And while the White House said the Internet should be a worldwide 
free-trade zone, European officials, though they agreed not to seek 
special Internet taxes, made clear that sales taxes and other real-world 
levies will apply to goods and services over the Internet.

The Internet always had its rules - unwritten but rigid. Don't hog network 
space; don't type in all capital letters (the keyboard equivalent of 
screaming); don't make commercial use of the Net, to name a few.

But the genteel protocols that came out of the Internet's academic 
beginnings went out the virtual door when tens of millions of users 
stomped in and business decided there was money to be made in the world 
behind the screen.

Now, a new Washington-based group with backing from the telecommunications 
and computer industries says it will organize an ``Internet Constitutional 
Convention'' this fall with the aim of establishing a representative 
government for the virtual nation of cyberspace.

The group, calling itself the Open Internet Congress, or OIC, contended 
Wednesday that a long-standing informal international panel that has 
fleshed out some of the standards by which the Internet operates was 
involved in a ``unilateral attempt to control the Internet.''

The OIC called for a new system of ``fair and democratic operating 
procedures'' for the online world. And the aim of the fall convention, 
said spokesman Wayne Thevenot, is to come up with ``some sort of 
administrative entity to govern the Internet.''

The immediate concern, said Thevenot, is a plan by the panel, the 
International Ad Hoc Committee, to make room for a fresh batch of Internet 
addresses, known as ``domain names,'' that critics say will make it harder 
than ever to protect corporate names and trademarks in cyberspace.

Beyond that, he said, the Internet is crying out for some stable and 
accountable governance: ``Right now, the Internet is being run by various 
and sundry volunteer individuals and groups, and it's clearly outlived 
that structure.''

Not so fast, say proponents of a grass-roots-administered Internet.

They say it is precisely this lack of comprehensive rules or rigid 
oversight that has made the Internet big, flexible and useful for so many 
unforeseen purposes, from e-mail to the World Wide Web to the latest 
innovations in live online voice and video - and it ought to stay that 

``Our role,'' said Martin Burack, executive director of the Internet 
Society, which advocates voluntary consensus-building for solving both 
technical and social problems online, ``is to stop people from trying to 
own it [the Internet] or take other action that would render it 

The debate is whether the Internet ``should be self-regulating, from the 
bottom up . . . or from the top down,'' said Amelia Boss, a Temple Law 
School professor who was a consultant to the White House Task Force on 
Electronic Commerce.

Boss said she was struggling personally with this choice in the microcosm 
of an e-mail discussion group that she started recently for people 
interested in a technology known as ``digital signatures.''

With 100 participants, said Boss, ``the messages coming in are just so 
many and so voluminous that it's turning off some users.'' To keep the 
discussion from dying under its own weight, should she mandate rules for 
fewer and shorter messages, or let the contributors scrap and pressure 
each other into making the discussion manageable?

In some groups, ``you will find . . . people decrying conduct by certain 
individuals,'' she said, ``and it begins to set a standard for everyone 

Still, Boss is intrigued by the notion of a constitution for the Internet. 
``It's very much in the vein of our history,'' she said. ``Whether they 
can pull that off is the $64,000 question. I happen to think it's an 
important thing to try.''

At least, she said, a constitution for cyberspace should contain ``certain 
fundamental principles - open access, for example. Some would try to add 
`free' access, but open and equal access is an important principle.''

Thevenot said he did not know what such a constitution would look like. 
``That's what's to be determined,'' he said. ``Our role in this is just to 
be a convener and a catalyst. . . . This would have to gain its legitimacy 
from acceptance in the Internet community.''

But to Daniel Weitzner, deputy director at the Center for Democracy and 
Technology, the common thread in the growing body of Internet-related 
policy decisions around the world ``is the shift from top-down control of 

Net . . . to user-based controls over objectionable or unwanted material, 
plus enforcement of criminal laws for individual illegal behavior.''

Deciding who oversees the fiercely independent and often intensely 
personal Internet, said Weitzner, ``is like asking who runs the newspapers 
or all the millions of letters that get sent around the world.''

Edition: D
Page: E03


Copyright (c) 1997 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Record Number: 9707140095