Industry lauds Ashcroft on IT policy

Since he was nominated to be the next attorney general, John Ashcroft has been beset by a growing army of critics, but the information technology industry is rising to his defense.

Praising the former Missouri senator for his "leadership on technology issues," Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, has urged the Senate to produce "swift confirmation of this Cabinet nominee."

And the Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties advocacy organization, described Ashcroft as "very good on encryption issues" and "pretty strong on Internet wiretapping issues." In addition, Ashcroft has "a very strong record on privacy," said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst for the center.

As attorney general, Ashcroft would oversee federal enforcement of Internet laws and policies.

Ashcroft, a far-right Republican, has alienated supporters of women's rights and civil rights with his staunch stand against abortion, opposition to gun control and his 1999 fight to prevent the appointment of a black federal judge.

But Ashcroft did not join other Senate conservatives in actively promoting Internet censorship legislation or requiring filtering software to be installed on computers in schools and libraries, Schwartz said. However, "we want to hear more about his positions" before endorsing him, Schwartz said.

Miller lauded Ashcroft's Senate record on IT issues including encryption, intellectual property rights and domain names. And perhaps most importantly, Ashcroft opposed Internet taxation. "He has clearly demonstrated an understanding that technology is not something to cage with undue regulation or taxation," Miller said.

Early on in his single term in the Senate, Ashcroft cultivated a bit of an image as a tech-savvy legislator.

In 1996, for example, he promoted what he called "an experiment in electronic democracy" in which he offered the public an opportunity to participate in the legislative process by signing "the first-ever congressional online petition" to impose term limits for members of Congress. Ashcroft also set up a term limits Web site that invited e-mail comments on the issue.

Term limits legislation failed, but the idea of e-democracy continues to percolate.

Ashcroft was among the first senators to have a home page on the Internet, and he was active in overhauling telecommunications policy.

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