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October 18, 1998

BUSINESS WINS, LIBERTIES LOSE IN CONGRESS BUDGET BILL

By CBR Staff Writer

Internet business interests are the big winners in the slew of net-related acts appended to the $500 billion US Congressional budget bill, which President Clinton signed into law on Friday. The passage of the Internet Tax Freedom Act establishes a three-year moratorium preventing states from imposing new taxes on internet access and electronic commerce, while a Research and Development Tax Credit extends a 12 month corporate tax break for R&D. Big business also won more special visas for skilled workers from outside the United States; these visas, known as H1-Bs, are commonly granted to programmers and other technology workers. Stripped of provisions that would have made it illegal to reverse engineer security software or otherwise test network security measures, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act nonetheless passed both houses, making it a crime for Americans to try to break copyright protection measures. The internet industry will benefit in various ways from each of these Acts. Civil libertarians are, however, wringing their hands over the passage of the Child Online Protection Act, sponsored by Republican congressman Mike Oxley. The Act makes it a crime for publishers to give minors internet access to material deemed harmful. The Act makes sites themselves responsible for checking ID. It also prevents marketers from collecting marketing information from children under 12 without their parents’ consent. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have said they will challenge Oxley’s Act just as they challenged and overthrew the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 on the grounds that it outlawed what was essentially protected free speech. The groups anticipate that they will file a suit next week on behalf of news organizations, gay and lesbian groups, artists, booksellers and web sites that distributed the Starr Report. Just like the CDA, this bill will once again criminalize socially valuable adult speech and reduce the Internet to what is considered suitable for a six-year-old, said Ann Beeson, staff attorney for the ACLU, in a statement. Beeson said that more recent advice from the Justice department, as well as the landmark overturning of the CDA, has proved that material on the internet is constitutionally protected. Congress can plead politics, she said, but it can’t plead ignorance.

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