Chief executives from many of the world's leading technology companies today urged governments to allow electronic commerce to flourish without trying to regulate the Internet.
The executives, working in a group called the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce, urged a continued moratorium on Internet taxes, the end of restrictions on security exports, the adoption of a "seal of approval" for sites that protect consumer privacy, and third-party arbitration of e-commerce disputes.
The business group presented its findings to more than 100 government officials, including U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley, who said the group is a council "to be listened to."
"When you take the number of companies involved there," Daley said in an interview, "you're really talking about an International Chamber of E-Commerce," noting that there is no equivalent global government organization for Internet issues.
Over the next year, the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce plans to continue lobbying government, solicit the views of smaller Internet commerce companies and consumer organizations, and work to get its principles adopted by the industry.
"It's time for companies to unite and work with governments," said Steve Case, chairman of America Online Inc., who will share chairmanship of the group with Gerald Levin, chairman of Time Warner Inc., over the next 12 months.
Although their recommendations, issued after eight months of meetings, represented wide consensus among such diverse Internet players as Time Warner Inc. of the United States, Vivendi SA of France and NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. of Japan, some of them conflict with plans emerging from Europe and some Asian countries.
In those places, governments more often believe that regulation and state involvement will help develop the Internet rationally and protect consumers from fraud and other hazards of such a fast-paced business environment. Instead, the global business group largely took the stance of the United States, which in the areas of taxation, privacy and commerce has left it largely up to the market to police itself. The United States and the European Union are currently at a standstill, for example, over opposing directives on protecting the privacy of individuals on the World Wide Web.
In presenting the group's principles, Thomas Middelhoff, chairman of Bertelsmann AG and the current chairman of the group, said that even when established with good intentions, regulations can't do justice to the revolutionary speed and spirit of the Internet.
Levin said the global computer network is a powerful tool that can not only create new wealth but also improve society and standards of living. "It can't happen if the digital realm is choked in an entanglement of local regulation," he added.