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Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 10:25 GMT

World: Americas

Clinton boost for web commerce

Bill Clinton joked about Al Gore's Web knowledge

US President Bill Clinton has unveiled a series of measures to promote the fast-growing market for trade on the Internet.

While leaning towards a largely non-regulatory stance toward Web commerce, Mr Clinton said his administration would encourage investment and help companies to get online.

"We have to clearly commit ourselves to making the most of what is clearly the engine of tomorrow's economy - technology," Mr Clinton said.

The President announced five steps to boost the new trade:

  • The Commerce Department to encourage more private sector investment in high-speed computer networks.
  • Small businesses to get help connecting to the Internet.
  • Consumers to get education on Internet fraud; industry self-regulation to be promoted; and existing anti-fraud laws to be enforced.
  • The impact of the Internet and electronic commerce on the US and global economy to be measured.
  • The State Department to launch a promotional programme for the Internet and electronic commerce in developing countries.

Analysts estimate that Internet trade could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars within the next five years.

Mr Clinton stressed that the growth of electronic commerce, while safeguarding the prosperity of the US, would also benefit developing economies

"I may not know as much about cable modems and T-1 lines as the vice-president ... But I do know, thanks to his and others' work, that electronic commerce gives us an extraordinary opportunity to usher in the greatest age of prosperity," Mr Clinton said.

Message of non-intervention

President Clinton said he wanted adequate safeguards for consumers, but made it clear he saw industry self-regulation as the best approach.

"We have to make ourselves absolutely committed to the proposition that we will first do no harm," he said.

"We will do nothing that undermines the capacity of emerging technologies to lift the lives of ordinary Americans."

But some consumer groups argue that industry self-regulation does not work and that the government should do more to protect consumers from fraud in Internet transactions as well as from the invasion of their privacy.

"In the privacy and consumer areas, self-regulation has not worked very well," said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, a Washington-based civil liberties group.

"People still have considerable concerns about privacy."

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