In a bid to get US support behind an international agreement on Internet regulation, the EC commissioner for industrial affairs, Martin Bangemann, lobbied chiefs of key US IT companies last week.
Scott McNealy from Sun and Andy Grove from Intel were on the San Alto, California invitation list last Friday, to hear about the EU?s vision of an ?international charter for global electronic services.? Bangemann urged the private sector to take a more active role in communications policies worldwide and called for an industry round table meeting, as the first step towards a charter.
The companies gave a cautious welcome to the proposed charter, according to Bangemann, particularly on the need for a market lead approach.
But so far there?s been little consensus on thorny ecommerce issues like encryption of sensitive data and domain names. The long awaited US green paper on Internet reform, published last February, proposed five new Top Level Domain names (TLDs) and for control of the Internet to transfer to a non-profit private organisation.
Two European organisations - the Internet Policy Oversight Committee and the Council of Registrars - criticised the paper for providing only a vague implementation timetable, supposedly delaying free competition in the domain name market. The approved plan will be issued in April and the international 15-member board is scheduled to begin its work in September.
A spokesman for Bangemann denied the proposals are just an EU talking shop. ?This is not only a European process - the whole world is invited,? he said. ?It?s no good for business if different continents have incompatible legal systems and different rules on encryption.?
He said international consensus on Internet matters is achievable and pointed to last year?s voluntary agreement in Bonn when 29 countries signed a declaration on issues such as encryption.
?The Internet may have started in the US but it?s now all over the world. We need to ask if a process of decentralisation is necessary,? he added.
In May the charter will be discussed at the European council of telecomm ministers, with ministerial conferences pencilled in for early 1999. A global charter could be in place by 1999 ?in a best case scenario,? the spokesman said.
Olivier Trebuck, head of European affairs for Gemplus, a European smartcard vendor, welcomed the idea of universal standards. ?There is a lot of confusion in the European market at the moment about encryption, with each government trying to establish their own rules. Certain European countries are enforcing strict security levels for digital signatures as a kind of protectionism against outside competition. The EC needs to do something about it now.?
Hannah Kirkman, an analyst at Yankee Group, said: ?The EU has been lobbying the US over Internet reform for some time now without much success. As the US government doesn?t allow its companies to export strong encryption outside the US its companies might feel threatened by European companies developing their own encryption."
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