March 12, 1996
Where Leading Candidates
Stand on Internet Issues
Candidates Seek Votes On Line but Largely Avoid Internet Issues
Political Points A Guide to Web Political Resources
By KATHRYN JONESPatrick J. Buchanan
Internet advocacy groups said that Buchanan was particularly hard to read. Campaign officials did not return phone calls seeking comment about his views.
On one hand, Buchanan, a television commentator, is a passionate defender of the First Amendment. On the other, he is an ultra - conservative who has courted the support of the Christian Coalition and other right-wing groups that have backed Internet censorship.
Internet watchdog organizations said that Buchanan's pro-business stance might lead him to oppose the Clinton Administration's so- called Clipper chip proposal on data encryption, which many software companies and Internet users view as intrusive and harmful to businesses that want to export software.
But Buchanan, like Clinton, might favor such proposals if law enforcement officials pushed for them, the groups added.
Senator Dole, who has a wide lead in the race to become the Republican Party's nominee, is the only candidate besides President Clinton with a track record on Internet policies.
Advocates for keeping the Internet a free market of ideas and information said that Dole had used his position as majority leader in the Senate to score political points by portraying the Net as a haven for child pornographers. Yet, they noted, the Senator currently is using the Internet as a campaign medium.
Dole alienated many in the Internet community last year by cosponsoring legislation with Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, to censor the Net. The Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit public interest group, termed the Dole-Grassley bill "an even greater threat" to First Amendment rights and "more Draconian" than Senator James Exon's Communications Decency Act, or CDA, which banned "indecent" material on the Internet.
The Dole-Grassley proposal was offered as a substitute for the CDA, which was part of the telecommunications deregulation law signed last month.
"Dole took a position that was more hard-line than Exon," said Jonah Seiger, a policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology, one of 23 plaintiffs challenging the law in court. "While Dole-Grassley didn't substantially impact the final bill, it had a role in shoring up the right flank."
Dole recently supported legislation that challenged the Clinton Administration's Clipper chip encryption proposal. He cosponsored a bill introduced by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, that would uphold the right of Americans to use any type of data-encoding equipment without restriction and would prohibit the mandatory use of special keys that would allow law-enforcement agencies to read scrambled data.
The Leahy bill would also allow the export of encryption software and hardware if similar technology was available for a foreign supplier.
Internet supporters have argued that reliable coding technology was essential to protect privacy on the network. They also said that strict export rules made it harder for American companies to compete with foreign suppliers.
"There's been dissatisfaction over the cryptology issue," said Jonah Seiger, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C. "But Dole has not done enough to alleviate concerns."
Internet political watchers said they were least certain of the stands of Steve Forbes, a publisher who has focused much of his campaign the proposal to replace the graduated income tax with a flat tax. But they said that given Forbes's laissez-faire attitude on social issues and his free-enterprise mindset, he might be expected not to favor Government censorship and additional regulation of on-line providers and commerce.
Forbes campaign officials did not return repeated phone calls.
The candidate has a number of supporters who have placed home pages on the Web urging free speech on the Internet and a vote for their candidate. "The Net is not safe!" one supporter proclaimed.
Alan Keyes, a tolk show host, has allied himself closely with the Christian Coalition, which backed tough standards last year on Internet censorship. But he has also stated on at least one occasion that he did not support Government censorship as a means of keeping "indecent" material away from minors.
In a September 1995 interview with Compuserve, Keyes said he favored the development of technology to allow parents to regulate Internet access for minors. He also said that he opposed the Clinton Administration's Clipper chip policy.
During negotiations to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the telecommunications bill, the Christian Coalition backed a proposal by Representative Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois, to toughen the language on the House provisions. Businesses and civil liberties groups opposed the Hyde plan because it would have outlawed all transmissions considered "indecent," not just the transmission of materials considered harmful to minors.
President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were virtual poster boys for cyberspace after Gore's highly publicized test-drive on the information superhighway and Clinton's oft-stated goal of connecting every school in the nation to the Internet by the turn of the century.
But the Administration's encryption proposals, Clipper I and Clipper II, and its support of a digital telephony measure to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to wiretap digital lines have alienated some Internet activists.
"All the good work done by the White House was undone at that point," said Steven Cherry, co-founder of the Voters Telecommunications Watch. "I can't tell you how astonishing it was to see the Vice President, a person who values civil liberties, ready to trash them when law enforcement entered the picture."
Seiger added, "There's been a growing feeling that the Administration simply didn't recognize the needs of individual Internet users for privacy and the growing community of corporations that use the Internet for communications."
Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company