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Industry Standard

Virginia's governor proves to be Web savvy


April 8, 1999
Web posted at: 10:11 a.m. EDT (1411 GMT)

by Elizabeth Wasserman

(IDG) -- Vice president Al Gore claims to have created the Internet. Looks like he must have done it in Virginia.

When Virginia Gov. James Gilmore III signed into law seven Internet-related bills last week, his braggadocio was unabashed. "The Virginia Internet Policy Act ... is an information-age blueprint ... the first comprehensive Internet policy in the United States."

Gilmore, a rising star in the Republican Party, wants to build a legacy as a friend of the Internet industry.

"Virginia is the information technology state in the United States," Gilmore declared at the bill-signing ceremony. Flanked by state legislators, his administration's Technology Secretary and officials from the Electronics Industry Association, Gilmore boasted that "Virginia is leading the information revolution as the Internet capital of the world. Half of the world's Internet traffic passes through Virginia."

The legislation Gilmore signed is impressive. The state outlawed spam, criminalized the use of encryption technology in the commission of a crime, and extended online privacy protections.

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Gilmore, who ran for governor on a platform of axing Virginia's automobile tax, has moved on to a new issue: shaping a national Internet tax policy. Late last year, Gilmore was appointed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce the Internet tax commission.

The panel, which is expected to name Gilmore as chairman, is embroiled in controversy: Some local governments have filed a lawsuit claiming the panel was stacked with pro-industry representatives who oppose Internet taxes. The Justice Department will likely represent the panel in court.

Gilmore, however, vows to proceed. "The fact of the matter is, I'm going to move," says Gilmore, who scheduled the first meeting of the panel for June in Williamsburg, Va., to be followed by hearings in Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; and New York. "This is a commission that has broad representation on it ... all points of view are going to be heard."

Some other elected GOP officials are already emulating Gilmore's approach. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, for instance, has created an Office of Innovation and Technology. Owens' move followed Gilmore's naming of Donald Upson to a post as Technology Secretary.

Still, some might feel Gilmore is exaggerating the prominence Virginia plays in the Internet Economy. True, northern Virginia is home to key Internet players, including America Online, PSINet, UUNet and Network Solutions. But is it really the "Internet capital of the world"? Not everyone thinks so.

"We are No. 1 in multimedia jobs," with 133,000 wired workers and counting, contends Jocelyne Henry, a leader of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's business team, which has adopted the Digital Coast moniker. "We're undertaking a study so that we can have bragging rights to this, that and the other thing." Certainly, Silicon Valley officials would dispute Virginia's claims. "If it means something in Virginia, that's good. Congratulations," says Steve Tedesco, president of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. "In Silicon Valley, every house that has a computer has started an Internet company."

No question, more and more politicians will discover the lure of the Net.

"You're going to see over the next two years everyone in politics claiming to have some sort of handle on the Internet," says Dave Farber, the University of Pennsylvania telecommunications professor who runs a popular e-mail list called Interesting People.

With regard to Gilmore's claim that half the world's Internet traffic goes through Virginia, Farber notes that one of the Internet's key switching centers, MAE East, is located in the state.

"But so what?" Farber says. "I'm sure there's someone claiming that some place in Kansas there's a place where 100 percent of the traffic has to go through."

There oughta be a law

The Virginia Internet Policy Act has seven parts and deals with five issues, ranging from spam to encryption to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Virginia Computer Crimes Act: Makes it a crime to send unsolicited junk e-mail. Outlaws falsifying e-mail header information in connection with spam transmission and bars the selling and distributing of software that enables individuals to transmit e-mail with falsified return addresses. Imposes damages of at least $500 per violation or actual damages, whichever is greater.

Privacy Protection Act: Clarifies that the definition of "information system" includes information collected or managed via the Internet.

Encryption used in criminal activity: Provides that any person who willfully uses encryption to further any criminal activity is guilty of an offense separate and distinct from the criminal activity and is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Secretary of Technology: Effective July 1, 1999, the law creates the Secretary of Technology of the Commonwealth, who will function as Virginia's Chief Information Officer.

Freedom of Information Act requests: Allows information sought under the Freedom of Information Act to be posted on the Net or sent via e-mail.

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