[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[July 1, 1997]
[Pages 895-898]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 895]]

Remarks Announcing the Electronic Commerce Initiative
July 1, 1997

    Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. For those of you who did 
not know what he was talking about, we went to a Broadway show last 
night, and there were three guys in the show who did the macarena in the 
show. So after it was over, I thought it only fair when the Vice 
President spoke they come up and do the macarena while--it was sort of 
background music, you know. [Laughter]
    Lou Gerstner, thank you for being here. That was a remarkable 
statement, and the Vice President gave you a remarkable introduction. I 
never before thought of you as a gazelle, but I always will now. 
    Thank you, Macdara MacColl, for the work you do and for the fine 
words you spoke. To the members of the Cabinet and the administration 
and people here from industry and consumer groups, I thank all of you. I 
especially want to thank for this remarkable report all the agencies who 
worked on it and in particular Ira Magaziner, who did a brilliant job in 
bringing everybody together and working this out over a very long period 
of time. And we thank you for what you did on that. Thank you all. I 
thank the Members of Congress for being here, Congressmen Gejdenson, 
Gordon, Markey, and Flake, and for their interest in these issues.
    I had two disparate experiences in the last few days that would 
convince a person of limited technological proficiency, like myself, 
that the world is changing rather dramatically. You have to remember 
now, the Vice President coined the term ``information superhighway'' 20 
years ago, back when I didn't even have an electric typewriter. 
[Laughter] But anyway, I had these two experiences which were very 
interesting to me. It's sort of a mark of how our world is changing.
    As you may have seen in the press, the oldest living member of my 
family, my great-uncle, passed away a few days ago, and so I went back 
to this little town in Arkansas where I was born. And when I got there 
late at night, I drove out in the country for a few miles to my cousin's 
house where the family was gathering. And she has a son who is in his 
mid-thirties now who lives in another small town in Arkansas, who, after 
we talked for 5 minutes, proceeded to tell me that he played golf on the 
Internet several times a month from his small town in Arkansas with an 
elderly man in Australia who unfailingly beat him. [Laughter] An unheard 
of experience just a few years ago. He knows this guy. He's explaining 
to me how he finds this man.
    Then he says, ``My brother likes to play backgammon on the Internet, 
and it got so I couldn't talk to him. But now I know how I can go get 
him out of his game, and he can go find a place to come have a visit 
with me, and they can hold the game while we have an emergency talk.'' I 
mean, these whole conversations, the way people--it was just totally 
unthinkable a few years ago.
    And then Sunday, the New York Times crossword puzzle--I don't know 
if you saw it, but it was for people like me. It was entitled 
``Technophobes.'' [Laughter] And I'm really trying to overcome my 
limitations. I'm technologically challenged, and I'm learning how to do 
all kinds of things on the computer because Chelsea is going off to 
school, and I need to be more literate. But you ought to go back and 
pull this, all of you who are now into cyberspace, and see if you can 
work your way back to another world because they had high-tech clues 
with common answers. Like ``floppy disk'' was a clue; the answer was 
``frisbee.'' [Laughter] ``Hard drive'' was a clue; the answer was 
``Tiger's tee shot.'' [Laughter] ``Digital monitor'' was the clue; the 
answer was ``manicurist.'' [Laughter]
    So, anyway, we've come a long way. And I'd like to give you some 
sense of history about this, because interestingly enough, this 
gathering at the White House, which I think is truly historic, is in a 
line of such developments in this house that has shaped our country's 
history of communications and networking. One hundred and thirty-nine 
years ago, here at the White

[[Page 896]]

House, America celebrated our first technological revolution here in 
communications. That was the year Queen Victoria sent the very first 
transatlantic telegraph transmission to President Buchanan, right here. 
And later, the first telephone in Washington, DC, was located in a room 
upstairs, the same room in which Woodrow Wilson managed the conduct of 
America's involvement in World War I. So we've seen a lot of interesting 
technological developments over time in the White House.
    Now we celebrate the incredible potential of the Internet and the 
World Wide Web. When I first became President, which wasn't so long ago, 
only physicists were using the World Wide Web. Today, as Lou said, there 
are about 50 million people in 150 countries connected to the 
information superhighway. There will be 5 times as many by the year 
2000, perhaps more, doing everything conceivable. We cannot imagine 
exactly what the 21st century will look like, but we know that its 
science and technology and its unprecedented fusions of cultures and 
economies will be shaped in large measure by the Internet.
    We are very fortunate to have with us today, together for the very 
first time at the White House, the four individuals who gave birth to 
the Internet: Vincent Cerf and Bob Kahn, who were critical to the 
development of the Internet in the 1970's; Tim Berners-Lee, who invented 
the World Wide Web, which brought the Internet into our homes, offices, 
and schools; and David Duke, who headed the team that invented the fiber 
optic cable which made high-speed Internet connections possible. Their 
groundbreaking work has done more to shape and create the world our 
children will inherit than virtually any invention since the printing 
press. And I would like to ask all four of them to stand and be 
recognized now. [Applause]
    The report which is being released and work that has been done is 
our effort to meet the challenge to make the Internet work for all of 
our people. Within a generation, we can make it so that every book ever 
written, every symphony ever composed, every movie ever made, every 
painting ever painted, is within reach of all of our children within 
seconds with the click of a mouse--which was ``black eye'' in the 
crossword puzzle yesterday. [Laughter]
    Now, this potential is nothing short of revolutionary. The Vice 
President and I are working to connect every classroom and school 
library to the Internet by the year 2000 so that for the first time, all 
the children, without regard to their personal circumstances, economic 
or geographical, can have access to the same knowledge in the same time 
at the same level of quality. It could revolutionize education in 
America. And many of you are helping on that, and we are grateful.
    We've also included $300 million in our new balanced budget plan to 
help build the next generation Internet so that leading universities and 
national labs can communicate in speeds 1,000 times faster than today, 
to develop new medical treatments, new sources of energy, new ways of 
working together.
    But as has already been said, one of the most revolutionary uses of 
the Internet is in the world of commerce. Already we can buy books and 
clothing, obtain business advice, purchase everything from garden tools 
to hot sauce to high-tech communications equipment over the Internet. 
But we know it is just the beginning. Trade on the Internet is doubling 
or tripling every single year. In just a few years, it will generate 
hundreds of billions of dollars in goods and services.
    If we establish an environment in which electronic commerce can grow 
and flourish, then every computer will be a window open to every 
business, large and small, everywhere in the world. Not only will 
industry leaders such as IBM be able to tap into new markets, but the 
smallest startup company will have an unlimited network of sales and 
distribution at its fingertips. It will literally be possible to start a 
company tomorrow and next week do business in Japan and Germany and 
Chile, all without leaving your home, something that used to take years 
and years and years to do. In this way, the Internet can be and should 
be a truly empowering force for large- and small-business people alike.
    But today, we know electronic commerce carries also a number of 
significant risks that could block the extraordinary growth and progress 
from taking place. There are almost no international agreements or 
understanding about electronic commerce. Many of the most basic consumer 
and copyright protections are missing from cyberspace. In many ways, 
electronic commerce is like the Wild West of the global economy. Our 
task is to make sure that it's safe and stable terrain for those who 
wish to trade on it. And we must do so by working with

[[Page 897]]

other nations now, while electronic commerce is still in its infancy.
    To meet this challenge, I'm pleased to announce the release of our 
new ``Framework for Global Electronic Commerce,'' a report that lays out 
principles we will advocate as we seek to establish basic rules for 
international electronic commerce with minimal regulations and no new 
discriminatory taxes. Because the Internet has such explosive potential 
for prosperity, it should be a global free-trade zone. It should be a 
place where Government makes every effort first, as the Vice President 
said, not to stand in the way, to do no harm. We want to encourage the 
private sector to regulate itself as much as possible. We want to 
encourage all nations to refrain from imposing discriminatory taxes, 
tariffs, unnecessary regulations, cumbersome bureaucracies on electronic 
commerce. Where Government involvement is necessary, its aim should be 
to support a predictable, consistent, legal environment for trade and 
commerce to flourish on fair and understandable terms. And we should do 
our best to revise any existing laws or rules that could inhibit 
electronic commerce. We want to put these principles into practice by 
January 1st of the year 2000.
    Today I am taking three specific actions toward that goal and asking 
the Vice President to oversee our progress in meeting it.
    First, I'm directing all Federal department and agency heads to 
review their policies that affect global electronic commerce and to make 
sure that they are consistent with the five core principles of this 
    Second, I'm directing members of my Cabinet to work to achieve some 
of our key objectives within the next year. I'm directing the Treasury 
Secretary, Bob Rubin, to negotiate agreements where necessary to prevent 
new discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce. I'm directing our 
Ambassador of Trade, Charlene Barshefsky, to work within the WTO, the 
World Trade Organization, to turn the Internet into a free-trade zone 
within the next 12 months, building on the progress of our landmark 
information technology agreement and our global telecommunications 
agreement, which eliminated tariffs and reduced trade barriers on more 
than one trillion dollars in products and services. I'm directing 
Commerce Secretary Daley to work to establish basic consumer and 
copyright protections for the Internet, to help to create the 
predictable legal environment for electronic commerce that we need, and 
to coordinate our outreach to the private sector on a strategy to 
achieve this. I'm also directing the relevant agencies to work with 
Congress, industry, and law enforcement to make sure Americans can 
conduct their affairs in a secure electronic environment that will 
maintain their full trust and confidence. Next week, Secretary Daley and 
Ira Magaziner will lead a delegation to Europe to present our vision for 
electronic commerce to our European trading partners.
    Third, I call on the private sector to help us meet one of the 
greatest challenges of electronic commerce, ensuring that we develop 
effective methods of protecting the privacy of every American, 
especially children who use the Internet. Many of you have already begun 
working with Chairman Pitofsky and Commissioner Varney at the Federal 
Trade Commission on this issue. I urge you to continue that work and to 
find new ways to safeguard our most basic rights and liberties so that 
we can trade and learn and communicate in safety and security.
    Finally, it is especially important, as I said last week, to give 
parents and teachers the tools they need to make the Internet safe for 
children. A hands-off approach to electronic commerce must not mean 
indifference when it comes to raising and protecting children. I ask the 
industry leaders here today to join with us in developing a solution for 
the Internet as powerful for the computer as the V-chip will be for 
television, to protect children in ways that are consistent with the 
first amendment.
    Later this month, I will convene a meeting with industry leaders and 
groups representing Internet users, teachers, parents, and librarians to 
help parents protect their children from objectionable content in 
cyberspace. Today we act to ensure that international trade on the 
Internet remains free of new discriminatory taxes, free of tariffs, free 
from burdensome regulations, and safe from piracy.
    In the 21st century, we can build much of our prosperity on 
innovations in cyberspace in ways that most of us cannot even imagine. 
This vision contemplates an America in which every American, consumers, 
small-business people, corporate CEO's, will be able to extend our trade 
to the farthest reaches of the planet. If we do the right things now, in 
the right way, we can lead our economy into an area where our 
innovation, our flexibility, and our creativity

[[Page 898]]

yield tremendous benefits for all of our people, in which we can keep 
opportunity alive, bring our people closer to each other, and bring 
America closer to the world. I feel very hopeful about this, and I 
assure you that we will do our part to implement the principles we 
advocate today.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:08 p.m. in the East Room at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Louis Gerstner, chairman and chief 
executive officer, IBM; Macdara MacColl, managing director, Parent Soup; 
Vinton G. Cerf, senior vice president for Internet architecture and 
engineering, MCI; Robert E. Kahn, founder, Corporation for National 
Research Initiatives; Tim Berners-Lee, director, World Wide Web 
Consortium; and David A. Duke, retired senior vice president of 
research/development and engineering, Corning, Inc.