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Web regulation called for at Net's birthday party

Not too much, not too little, but some rules are needed

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The Internet blew out 30 birthday cake candles today, trumpeting that the clicks and mortar revolution had only just begun.

Those assembled at the debate to celebrate the Internet's 30th anniversary in London this morning included speakers from ISP UUNet, Jungle.com and the government. They voiced fears over excessive government control but also over Web security worries hindering ecommerce.

Derek Wyatt, Labour MP and joint chairman of the all party parliamentary Internet group, called for an Internet Minister to be established in the Cabinet. "The Internet is a fundamental challenge to the way we're working and a lot of MPs find this uncomfortable," he said.

Wyatt said that the traditional way government worked in the UK – with many vertical organisations – was being swept away by the Internet. But he added: "Many traditional Labour people come from the public sector, and these are often the last to know what is going on [in this field]."

UUNET UK PR manager Richard Woods challenged this calling for more government involvement in net security. "We want a light hand from the government," stressed Woods. "We don't want to see – dare I say it – a Big Brother situation."

Albert Benhamou, Mirapoint EMEA VP, was in agreement with Woods. When asked if there should be a body to control security issues such as viruses, he said: "No. I would be against too much policing. The more you police the Web, the less open things are."

But most believed that some level of increased regulations and standards was needed in the UK – even if that included some government intervention. This seemed especially relevant in light of the recent boob by Argos, where the retail outlet advertised a TV priced at just £3 on its Web site.

Steve Bennett, founder and chairman of consumer Web site Jungle.com, commented: "I would hope the [the Argos situation] wouldn't happen to me. But there need to be some rules – the Web does need to be regulated."

For Bennett, there were two elements to Web security. The retailer needed to educate the consumer and make them feel at ease, while the seller had to check that they themselves didn't get stung by fraud, he said. "Customers need to establish confidence in ecommerce. There is probably less fraud from using credit cards on the Internet than from handing them over in a restaurant," said Bennett. "Users need to be made to feel at ease by the retailer and retailers have to make the shopping experience better on the Web than in the retail outlet."

Woods added: "It may be 30 years since the Internet began, but it's only been in the last five years that we’ve seen it's ability to change our lives. "The next generation will decide where it goes from here – and whatever we have predicted today will probably be overtaken by other events." ®

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