IT Execs Swarm Capitol Hill

There was a tech boom in Washington this week as IT executives from around
the country trekked to Capitol Hill, just as Congress is beginning to ponder the
need for telecom reform, improved cyber security, intellectual property
rights and consumer online privacy.

The executives testified before Congress, met with White House and
government agency officials, hosted dinners and parties and manned a small
tech trade show.

As Voice over IP poster boy Jeff Pulver said at a Wednesday
night reception, “We’ve come a long way in just a year.”

Several hundred Hill staffers and the occasional lawmaker attending what
amounted to a private tech trade show for Congress surrounded Pulver. Two
years ago, the event drew a dozen exhibitors. This year, dozens of booths
lined a cavernous room displaying everything from VoIP to IP-based
television to the latest in 3G cell phones.

Microsoft , SBC , the Consumer Electronics Association, eBay ,
the Entertainment Software Alliance, Kodak , NTT DoCoMo
, Sony , Verizon and Vonage were among the exhibitors.

“Security, safety, privacy – all these things still face us,” Sen. Conrad
Burns (R-Mont.) told the crowd. “The bad guys are keeping up.”

Burns used the occasion to introduce his e-Eleven tech agenda, which centers
on anti-spyware legislation, and strengthening the current CAN SPAM Act.
Other items on his agenda include reform measures aimed at Universal
Service, ICANN and spectrum management.

“We are in a digital age. It is no longer a world where we can distinguish
between voice, video and data,” Burns said. “Everything now is in the
indistinguishable form of ones and zeroes. This will pose new challenges as
we continue forward with reform legislation.”

Earlier in the day, CEOs from Motorola , Siemens , Alcatel , Qualcomm and Lucent
all testified before the House Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and the Internet on the need for a light regulatory touch
on IP-based networks and services.

While the CEOs were testifying, House and Senate staff members attended a
day-long briefing on the major tech issues hosted by the Congressional
Internet Caucus. The chief sponsors of the event were Time Warner , VeriSign , MCI , Microsoft,
the Recording Industry Association of America, Verizon and RSA Security

On Thursday, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) brought the chief
technology officers (CTOs) of some of the IT industry’s leading companies to
Washington for a series of high-level meetings with government officials.
The BSA has been bringing CEOs to Capitol Hill for years, and the trade group
now hopes the CTO briefings will become an annual event.

“The technologists are the leading creative minds, and they are able to
provide insights on what it takes to bring new products to market,” Diane
Smiroldo, a spokeswoman for the BSA, said.

The CTOs met with Karen Evans, the Bush administration’s e-government chief;
John Marburger, the White House’s chief science administrator; and Phil
Bond, the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for technology.

“We wanted to re-emphasize how big an impact IT has on the economy,” said
Chris Voice, vice president for technology at Entrust .

Heading the CTOs wish list is a new emphasis on cyber security, federally
funded research and development, improving federal information systems and
improving e-government options.

One CTO contacted by said he didn’t sense
from the Bush administration that there was a “scramble to put out a fire”
when it came to cyber security. But Burt Kaliski, vice president of research
at RSA, emphasized the CTOs focus was on long-term security development.

“There is a growing recognition that a lack of security has a larger
indirect impact: loss of consumer confidence,” Kaliski said. “Security was
talked about in an overall sense to raise awareness. We wanted to dispel
some of the hype and misconceptions. We talked about building security into
long-term developments like sensor networks and RFID.”

Voice also stressed that lack of security is undermining consumer confidence
in the Internet.

“We’re not talking about teenage hackers anymore,” he said. “Now, it is the
hacker with a business plan. ID theft is a for-profit crime, and it is being
done systematically.”

Kaliski said he was “pleased with the level of cooperation, particularly the
dialogue” in the meetings.

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