New e-commerce lobby aims to curb on-line laws

When the Global Business Dialogue on E-Commerce (GBDE) convenes for the second time this month, the meeting will most likely be held — fittingly enough — over the Internet.

The international organization was launched recently in New York by chief executive officers from a wide range of industries. The group aims to tackle a host of policy issues related to electronic commerce, to hammer out consensus and alleviate the need for governments to step in with regulations.

So far, more than 100 companies have signed on, according to Bill Burrington, vice-president of global public affairs at America Online Inc. (AOL) and one of the organization’s founders. Other members of the organization include Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Fujitsu Ltd., Bertelsmann AG and Nokia Corp.

Working groups created at the inaugural gathering will meet over the next three months to discuss policy initiatives including on-line privacy, consumer confidence, liability, taxation and tariffs, jurisdiction, infrastructure, content and the protection of intellectual property rights, Burrington said.

The initiatives will form the foundation for an ongoing dialogue among governments, international governmental organizations and the international business community, he added.

But because the companies involved are scattered around the world, coordinating regularly scheduled, real-time meetings in the traditional sense is virtually impossible, said Chris Cane, vice-president of government programs at IBM.

To solve the problem, IBM is putting together a Web-based system built around Lotus’s Domino.Doc that will allow GBDE members to collaborate in real time using knowledge management techniques, Cane said.

“We are going to use the technology that we are all coming together around as the mechanism through which we will have a transparent, inclusive, collaborative real-time dialogue on these critical issues,” he said.

Speaking at an Internet standards and practices symposium in January in San Francisco, Christine Varney, former head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Ira Magaziner, who until December coordinated the U.S. government’s electronic commerce strategy, warned the private sector to follow through with promises to protect consumer privacy. Both Varney and Magaziner said businesses risk facing “Draconian” regulations from the world’s governments if they don’t take action.

Cane said hot issues on the GBDE’s agenda are self-regulatory models for on-line privacy, child safety/child pornography and an extension of the World Trade Organization’s one-year ban on Internet tariffs.

“I think what we’re being asked to do by governments and the European Commission is to define a new model of self-regulation for the new economy,” Burrington said. “The key part of this effort is continuing to have a dialogue and partnership with government. That’s the big difference – there’s a partnership here.

“There’s been a lot of work that’s already been done on a lot of these issues. We’re not here to reinvent the wheel,” Burrington said. “What we’re trying to do is gather up that work and figure out where there is consensus and then move on to some of the more difficult things.”

The GBDE’s next meeting probably will be held late this month, Cane said.