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RSA 2005 The role of government in regulating the IT industry sparked sharp debate at this week's RSA Conference.

Richard Clarke, former White House cyber-security advisor, and cryptographer Bruce Schneier argued for the benefits greater regulation might bring against opposition from Harris Miller, president of the IT Association of America, and Rick White, president of TechNet. Clarke said that he opposed regulation of the IT industry while in government but a deteriorating security landscape has prompted him to change his opinion.

"We have a choice of a world where viruses, DDoS and spam are a reality and one where they are not," Clarke said. Schneier agreed adding the fact ISPs fail to provide a secure connection as a crime. "Hook up to broadband and not requiring use of a firewall is the equivalent of producing cars without seat belts," he said.

Big buyer better than Big Brother regulations

In the red corner, Miller argued regulations only serve to create a "messy bureaucracy" and impede innovation. Existing laws are adequate, he added.

Compliance with corporate regulations - like Sarbanes Oxley - was a major theme of this year's RSA Conference. Increased auditing and controls have encouraged enterprises to overhaul their security architectures. The panellists at a To Regulate or not regulate: that is the question discussion at this week's RSA Conference in San Francisco to didn't agree on much but they all agreed that it didn't make much sense for accounting firms to be setting standards in computing.

Miller said it was up to industry to come with standards by itself but Schneier said suppliers would continue to follow insecure practices as long as they could if it allowed them to be more profitable. "Companies are not charities they do things because competition demands it or customers demand it or regulation demands it. The capitalist imperative is not in line with the result society wants so we can demand a change through regulation. Regulation changes the trade off companies make," Schneier said.

Clarke said attempts to resist regulation could backfire on the IT industry. "After a major incident you would end up which much stricter regulations," he said. ®

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