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Background: Digital Dollars

July 1, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

CHARLES KRAUSE: Americans have been shopping online since the creation of the World Wide Web in 1993. Today, everything from flowers–to airline tickets–to champagne–can be bought using a personal computer. Some businesses like, which sells books, exist only in cyberspace. It’s also possible to buy and sell stocks with just a few keystrokes, while viewing and downloading pornography takes only a credit card. Today, Internet commerce is in its infancy.

Under $1 billion worth of goods and services change hands online each year in the U.S. That’s only a small slice of the nation’s $8 trillion economy, but online shopping is expected to grow substantially in the years ahead.

This afternoon President Clinton and Vice President Gore released a report calling for the government to maintain a “hands off” policy tn order to lubricate the wheels of the fledgling cyber industry.

VICE PRESIDENT GORE: We are defining government’s role in these early days of the Internet. We’re saying that our approach to electronic commerce must be guided by a digital Hippocratic Oath. First: Do no harm.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: If we establish an environment in which electronic commerce can grown and flourish and 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 start-up 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.

CHARLES KRAUSE: The report was the work of a presidential task force consisting of industry representatives, consumers and educators. Their recommendations were the equivalent of a road map for the information superhighway.

Those recommendations included: no new taxes on Internet transactions; no new government regulations on Internet content; asking the world trade; organization to make the Internet a duty-free zone; and allowing the industry to police itself, including devising ways to shield children from indecent material. At the same time, the report calls for continued government control over the export of encryption software, which scrambles information, including national security data. Industry analysts project online commerce reaching $10 billion, or even much more, by the year 2000.