Bliley bats .500

Thomas R. Temin

Congressional oversight is proving once again to be an instrument of both stiletto-like precision and ham-fisted clumsiness.

Recent efforts by Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.), who is batting .500 when it
comes to being on the right side of technology issues, are good cases in point.

Thanks in part to Bliley's objections, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers will neither hold all of its meetings in secret nor tax Net registrants.

ICANN is coming up with a game plan to make the registration of names for the .com, .net and .org domains competitive. Headed by a luminary of the digerati, Esther Dyson, ICANN soon ran into controversy for its closed-meeting policy and for proposing that domain name owners be charged a $1 yearly fee.

Like the demonopolization of the telecommunications industry, the weaning of the Internet from a registration monopoly run by the Commerce Department and its proxy, Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., will be messy and protracted. But ultimately, just as deregulation of phones helped unleash world-changing technology, deregulating the Net ought to spark new services.

Bliley was right to call ICANN on the carpet, but the chairman of the House Commerce Committee recently struck out in another matter.

The House, with Bliley's backing, joined a Senate bill to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from posting chemical spill data on EPA's Web site. Why? So terrorists can't aggregate the data, the argument went.

I've been troubled by this initiative from the beginning. If law demands that chemical spill dangers and response plans be reported for public disclosure, the information should be on the site. The idea that not posting it on the Web will keep it out of terrorists' hands is specious. It's also a dangerous precedent that might let the government hide all sorts of information.

Technology always runs ahead of policy-making, leaving the government in the unfortunate and often uncomfortable position of playing catch-up. Lawmakers need to avoid setting policies that are obsolete even before the technologies they are designed to cover.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

Internet: editor@gcn.com

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