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Home » Hacking News » Tech Elite Divided on Web Privacy Laws

Tech Elite Divided on Web Privacy Laws

by platon on August 22nd, 2001 ASPEN - The chief executive of one of the world's largest computer makers called for Internet privacy legislation to help revitalize the New Economy, kicking off a new debate among the technology elite. Carly Fiorina, the head of printer and computer giant Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP ), said her industry had not lived up to its leadership responsibilities in setting such standards.

"I think we in the technology industry have fallen in love with technology. And in the end it is not about the technology,'' she said

"Privacy and security, or trust, are vital to consumers, and that is what we should focus on. There is a role for legislation,'' Fiorina told a conference organized by the Progress & Freedom Foundation think tank late on Sunday in this Colorado mountain resort.

Privacy has become a key issue for Web surfers fearful they are giving up information they want to keep confidential, and has largely boiled down to whether the government should make regulations, and risk gumming up the Web, or let the industry police itself, perhaps ineffectively.

Neither government nor industry have reached a consensus on what to do.

HP has called for regulation before, as did late last year Louis Gerstner, chairman and chief executive of computer giant International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM ).

Hewlett-Packard's manager for technology policy, Scott Cooper, said the government should pass a law to require Web sites to clearly and conspicuously post what information they collect and how they use it -- which would mark a sharp contrast from the legalese buried on many sites today.


But Federal Trade Commissioner Orson Swindle said the FTC was unlikely to propose such laws under its new chairman, Timothy Muris. Swindle had opposed a decision to propose legislation by the previous chair.

"The debate has made legislators and regulators more aware of the complexity of the issue, the enormous threat of unintended consequences,'' he said, predicting tougher enforcement of current trade regulations. Congress was divided and also unlikely to pass privacy laws this year, he added.

The debate also involves tricky issues such as how consumers should consent to the use of various types of personal information.

Sharing information is good for consumers, if done right, said Piper Cole, vice president of global public policy at network computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW ).

"It's like 20 years ago, you would go into a local store and they would know you... and you would love that store,'' she said.

But Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Passport system to collect personal data to ease electronic commerce has raised hackles in the industry and among consumers, and it is only one example of the widespread concern.

Some kind of cooperation between rival companies would probably be needed to solve the problems of privacy and the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet access, or broadband, but regulators are fearful that corporations could collaborate against the consumer, Fiorina said.


Beyond policy questions, the people who ushered in the first technology boom wondered aloud if there would be a second.

"I don't think we have begun to see the carnage in information technology companies that are going to fail,'' said Tom Siebel, chief executive of e-business software firm Siebel Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: SEBL ).

But he predicted the economy would turn around by late next year and said the bloodletting was healthy after the insanity of the last two years of boom. Privacy and broadband issues were sure to work out, he said.

Carnegie Mellon economist Kathryn Shaw said technology was still improving productivity. Meanwhile, it was good to leave behind the craziness of the boom, she said. ``Thank God it was over. It was a terrible period.''

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