Tech Analysts Call for Technology-Czar

The U.S. needs a technology czar to handle the growing impact the Internet has on our economy, analysts from the Gartner Group told President George W. Bush recently.

In an open letter to the President and his administration, the online technology firm called for sweeping initiatives ranging from increased spending in cyber-crime training and enforcement to upgrading the technology used to run the government.

French Caldwell, Gartner’s research director for technology and public policy, said the creation of a Cabinet-level cyber-czar is necessary to oversee the impact of technology on the economy.

“This is a unique opportunity that comes around only every four to eight years,” Caldwell said. “People are beginning to realize the ripple affect that comes from the tech industry. The administration has the opportunity here to get their hands on that. It really needs the same kind of attention as we give to other parts of the economy that are extraordinarily significant, like energy policy and the war on drugs.

“A technology czar should definitely have the same level and status as people who represent those other important issues for the country,” he said.

Many of the same technology companies that last year were responsible for the exuberant confidence that led to the Internet bubble also felt the afteraffects when the bubble burst.

High-tech companies like Oracle Corp. (third quarter 2000 profit warning), Nortel Networks (forced to slash 10,000 jobs) and Motorola Inc. (weak first quarter 2001 revenues) were forced to scale back operations and declare lower revenue projections in the face of a bear market. Something upon which a technology czar likely would have been able to issue guidance.

A cyber czar is also needed to protect the many users already on the Internet and those expected to log on for the first time in coming years, Gartner said.

Cyber-crime training and enforcement accounts for only one percent of the current administration’s law enforcement budget, despite the growing risk posed by malicious hackers on many of the Internet’s largest and most popular e-commerce sites. found out Monday that two of online advertising company DoubleClick‘s Web sites had been cracked after malicious hackers found a vulnerability in the company’s Web server. The company joins a long list of high-tech companies like Microsoft Corp. and whose sites have been breached by bored script kiddies. The real danger comes when the acts are perpetrated by terrorists who go after sensitive government Web sites, like the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

As it stands, many of those acts go unpunished, largely because federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation don’t have the resources to pursue the culprits.

Gartner analysts expect the role of the Internet in governmental affairs to come to a head within the next seven years, prompting politicians to immerse themselves in Internet policy as the new medium plays a larger role in the political process.

“We’re predicting that sometime around 2008, maybe even before that, the Internet’s effect on the political process is going to be transformational as it was the business community,” Caldwell said. “At that point, you’ll start having politicians who really understand the impact and power of the Internet.”

The reluctance of many politicians to dabble with Internet affairs isn’t a matter of party lines, but a matter of not knowing the issues well enough.

“It’s not a Republican or Democrat thing, I don’t feel the full impact of the Internet has been felt yet, and until that happens I don’t see many politicians getting Internet-savvy, including those who are speaking out on some of these issues,” Caldwell said.

According to a survey released Tuesday by the Information Technology Association of America, more than one-third, or 39 percent, of American voters favor Internet voting, and 69 percent think the voting process overall needs a technology boost.

Caldwell said that it’s interesting that while many Americans are in favor of modernized voting practices, surveys conducted at Gartner found no interest among legislators.

When we did our surveys of election officials in the 40 largest jurisdictions in the U.S., none of them were looking at Internet voting at any point in the near future,” Caldwell said. “When you talk to voters, they are open to the Internet being used in the electoral process, for getting absentee ballots, registering to vote, even to vote.

“I mean, there is some recognition that there security issues there right now, but we believe that by around 2006 timeframe that the security will be robust enough for online voting,” Caldwell predicted.

He believes that a technology czar would aid legislators in understanding the technology initiatives that make their way through Congress. Until that time, many politicians aren’t going to be able to determine the real impact of the Internet.

“Until the Internet really starts to hit the political process, I don’t think these politicians are really going to understand it and they need to,” Caldwell said. “That’s part of the problem, with the government’s role in the new economy and the politicians who are responsible for setting the rules and regulations and the legislations, don’t have the intuitive sense of the impact of the Internet.”

Gartner analysts also expect nearly 70 percent of e-government initiatives to fail in the near future, until efforts are made by the government to reward workers based on technical knowledge, not seniority.

So far, the Bush Administration has been relatively quiet when it comes to Internet policy. The only indication of policy comes from Bush’s appointment of Michael Powell as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Powell is a champion of deregulation who favors a hands-off approach when it comes to FCC involvement in the business place. His stance on broadband regulation has many small and mid-sized Internet service providers worried about the FCC’s level of commitment to protecting small companies from the largely unchecked incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) like SBC Communications and Verizon Communications.

Last week, the FCC also ordered the suspension of the AT&T-Media One compliance deadline. Last year, AT&T was told it could acquire cable company Media One as long as it could divest some of its nationwide cable ownership. The move came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the FCC’s earlier (under Democrat FCC chairman William Kennard) policy to cap cable ownership by one company at 30 percent.

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