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A Roundup of Key Developments


Online gambling policy simmered rather than boiled in 2003 as Congress again failed to pass legislation restricting the practice. A handful of bills garnered some congressional attention, and one, a measure that would have prohibited U.S. credit card companies and banks from honoring Internet gambling transactions, passed the House of Representatives. The World Trade Organization said it would convene a panel do determine whether U.S. efforts to crack down on offshore Internet gambling operations violated international treaties.

Related coverage:
* U.S. Internet Gambling Crackdown Sparks WTO Complaint (July 21, 2003)
* Congress Rolls the Dice Again on Online Gambling (May 12, 2003)

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Identity Theft

Privacy remains a steadily growing concern in the opening years of the 21st century, particularly as hackers find new ways to obtain personal data that people store on their computers. Identity theft became one of the worst consequences of malicious computer hacking as people discovered that their credit and sometimes their lives were being ruined by thieves misusing their Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and host of other valuable data. President Bush this fall signed a law that toughens penalties for ID theft and tries to create better ways for people to reorganize their lives after becoming ID theft victims.

Related coverage:
* Avoiding ID Theft: A Primer (Dec. 5, 2003)
* Spy Programs Threaten Data on Personal Computers (Oct. 11, 2003)
* FTC, Businesses Renew Fight Against ID Theft (Sept. 3, 2003)

Internet Governance

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) managed to remain mostly out of the policy crosshairs in 2003 as it continued efforts to restructure itself. The group, which supervises the Internet's address system, won a major victory when the U.S. Commerce Department extended the deal under which it manages the Internet's addressing system for three years. Representing its effort to be seen as more than just an American entity, the group also hired its first non-American president, Australian businessman Paul Twomey.

ICANN's first major brush with the headlines came when a company it oversees -- Internet addressing giant VeriSign Inc. -- launched a controversial system to redirect Internet traffic to its own corporate servers. VeriSign temporarily suspended the program at ICANN's insistence. ICANN made the news again this month when a group of developing countries mounted a push to transfer its powers to the United Nations. The proposal was to be considered at a UN information summit, but got shelved until 2005.

Related coverage:
* U.N. Sets Aside Debate Over Control of Internet (Dec. 9, 2003)
* VeriSign Agrees To Shut Down Search Service (Oct. 4, 2003)
* Senator: ICANN Crucial To 'Net Security (July 31, 2003)
* Australian Tapped To Run Internet Group (March 19, 2003)

Internet Telephones

It's the simple concept of making telephone calls through the Internet, and it is by no means a new trend. Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, nevertheless achieved sudden popularity this year after a court ruling in Minnesota that said it should not be subject to the same complex regulations and taxes that govern traditional phone service. While the states try to figure out a way to keep VoIP from eluding the taxman, the nation's largest local and long-distance phone companies are starting to lay out their strategies for making some serious cash in that business. The Federal Communications Commission has yet to definitively weigh in on this topic, though Commission Chairman Michael Powell has stated his opposition to subjecting VoIP to traditional telecom regulations.

Related coverage:
* Powell Opposes Internet Phone Regulation (Dec. 2, 2003)
* An Evolutionary Edge (Dec. 3, 2003)


It was a slow year in Congress for the what was once the issue in Internet policy -- online smut. Anti-porn crusaders applauded a 5-4 Supreme Court decision to uphold a law that compels libraries to install filters on their computers. Civil liberties advocates argued that the Children's Internet Protection Act -- which requires libraries to either install porn filters or forego an important source of federal funding -- restricts adults from looking at constitutionally protected material. Online pornography surfaced again in the file-sharing debate as record industry officials sought to link companies like Kazaa to the ease with which kids can get adult material online. A bill introduced in July aimed to slash the availability of pornography on peer-to-peer sites.

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