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  Gore's Web Site Raises Privacy Issue

By Ted Bridis
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 1999; 8:01 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON Al Gore, the presidential candidate most closely associated with technology savvy, launched his campaign into cyberspace -- and nearly stumbled over the nettlesome problem of Internet privacy.

Gore's campaign rushed Tuesday to remove from its new Web site questions asking children for their names, e-mail addresses and zip codes -- a practice soon to be outlawed on some Internet sites by legislation Congress approved last year.

The campaign stripped the questions from the "Just for Kids" section of its Web site less than one hour before the pages were published Tuesday on the Internet, after The Associated Press raised questions about them during a preview for news organizations.

A new privacy law, signed by President Clinton last year, generally prohibits asking children such questions on commercial Web sites unless companies first obtain a parent's permission.

The law takes effect in 2001, although federal regulators -- who have yet to determine how they will enforce the ban -- indicated Tuesday it won't cover campaign Internet sites.

As originally designed, Gore's Web site offered children the opportunity to receive campaign materials electronically if they submitted their first and last name, e-mail address and zip code. They also could send Gore questions via e-mail.

The site also included a link to a privacy statement -- rare among the Web pages of any of the presidential candidates -- with specific suggestions for children, such as warning them not to give out personal information without a parent's permission.

Campaign officials maintain that their original version would not have violated the new privacy law, but they decided to remove the questions anyway -- except for asking children their first name.

Kids can still electronically send questions to Gore, who promised to reply to one or two each day on the Web. But the campaign added a warning to ``PLEASE ask your parents if it is OK to give us the following information before you submit questions.''

Gore's campaign manager, Craig Smith, said he ordered the changes after talking with lawyers and considering his own feelings as a father. Smith's children helped work on Gore's ``Just for Kids'' pages.

``It is important that the vice president's office set a good example, so I commend them for making the changes,'' said Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Washington-based Center for Media Education.

The FTC said Tuesday it doesn't consider a campaign Web site to be commercial, and thus subject to the new law. But some privacy groups suggested the law might apply to any site with a ``.com'' Web address, such as Gore's.

Gore recently drew ridicule when he said in an interview that he helped create the Internet, a remark he later blamed on being tired. He has been a strong supporter of federal spending to boost technology.


© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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