- Report Published -
|Assessing the Need to Establish Protocols and Guidelines Regarding In-State Access to the Myriad Files and Components Available Through the Internet|
|Library Board; Department of Information Technology|
|HJR 76 (Regular Session, 1994)|
|In March of 1994, the General Assembly passed HJR 76, which requested "the State Library Board and the Department of Information Technology to study whether the Commonwealth needs to establish protocols and guidelines regarding in-state access to the myriad files and components available through the Internet." A copy of HJR 76 is included as Appendix I to this Report. In May of 1994, the principals met and decided that broader participation in the Committee's deliberations was necessary. A list of Committee members and participants is included as Appendix II to this Report.|
The Committee held its first meeting in June of 1994 and its last in November. We focused on existing or possible State-sponsored Internet access to four sectors:
• State government agencies
• State-supported educational institutions
• Small and emerging businesses
• The general public
The Committee determined that five clusters of issues can affect all four sectors:
• Three First Amendment Issues
• Two liability issues
• Acceptable Use Policies
• Equitable access issues
• Network and database security issues
On pages 8 and 9 of the Report are listed four definitions, which describe how the Committee chose to interpret certain terms. Pages 8 and 9 also include seven caveats, which describe how and why the Committee limited the scope of its deliberations. One example: Given the global span and worldwide ownership of the Internet, whether or not Virginians will be able to access the Internet is not an issue which falls to the Commonwealth, or even the United States of America to decide.
For a full understanding of what issues the Committee's Recommendations address, pages 8 and 9 of the Report are must reading.
Access to the Internet throughout Virginia is an important issue. Consider:
During one month, from 15 August to 15 September 1994, Virginia ranked 7th throughout the entire North American Hemisphere for the largest number of new commercial accounts registered that month on the Internet. Only California (428), Colorado (140), the entire nation of Canada (110), Texas (110), Massachusetts (87) and New York (84) had more registrations. Of Virginia's 74 new commercial accounts 63 were in the 703 area code region and 11 were in the 804 area code region.
While the Committee's Recommendations are integral to the Issues considered in this Report, each Recommendation specifies either a decision or an action, which falls into one of three sequential Tiers:
Tier I. Policy Recommendations which become relevant after the initial policy decision has been made that a State agency or a State-supported institution will provide some level of access to the Internet for certain populations.
Recommendations 1, 2, and 3 [page 12 of the Report] address three First Amendment Issues:
Recommendation 1 cautions State agencies not to deny access to Internet resources "on the basis of viewpoint, message or possible controversial content."
Recommendation 2 states that citizens and Internet users should be advised ''that State-supported gateways to the Internet cannot shield them or their children from unpleasant or offensive material."
Recommendation 3 advises that should State government "decide to expand the range of topic or issues beyond those available over the Internet, the State must treat evenly all viewpoints and perspectives."
Recommendation 14 [page 18 of the Report] advises that "all State government data and information released to the public online [be] accessible to all citizens and residents of Virginia."
Recommendation 16 [page 20 of the Report] has policy, procedural and financial elements. The key policy phrase is "if the Governor and the General Assembly determine that some level of State-supported Internet access service should be provided to the general public and/or to specified new and emerging businesses." Should such a determination not be made, then the rest of Recommendation 16 is moot.
Tier II. Procedural Recommendations, which become relevant after a policy decision has been made which obliges one or more State agencies or State-supported institutions to provide some level of access to the Internet for certain persons, groups or purposes.
Recommendation 4 [page 13 of the Report] advises State agencies to continue to develop and apply policies and procedures to guarantee "that agency data or information accessible over the Internet is reliable, valid and accurate."
Recommendation 5 [page 13 of the Report] advises "each State-supported Internet gateway [to] develop a network disclaimer statement" and to submit those statements to the Attorney General's Office for approval, after which each statement should be "prominently and permanently displayed."
Recommendations 6, 7, and 8 [pages 14-15 of the Report] set out minimum contents for State agencies' adequate Acceptable Use Policies [AUPs], recommend their review and approval by the Attorney General's Office, advise that they be "prominently displayed and ... available to all users of a State-supported Internet access service covered by [a specific] AUP."
Recommendation 8 would require users of a State-supported Internet access service to sign a statement stipulating that they understand and do not dispute ... [the Internet provider's] Disclaimer Statement'' and that they will abide by the conditions stipulated in the State provider's AUP.
Recommendation 9 [page 15 of the Report] advises State agencies to "develop guidelines and/or regulations" spelling out the "specific conditions and acceptable uses for agency staff access to the Internet.
Recommendation 10 [page 16 of the Report] urges State agencies and State-supported institutions to work with the Attorney General's Office to "define, establish and apply appropriate sanctions for violations of agencies' AUPs or other violations of State-supported Internet access services."
Recommendations 11 and 12 [page 17 of the Report] first, tasks the Department of Information Technology to "decrease [the] user training burden and costs on State-supported Internet access providers" by identifying or developing "appropriate user interfaces (front-ends)" to Internet and second, "until such time as front-ends and Graphic User Interfaces (GUI) become widely available and affordable, urges State agencies to "collaborate with both for-profit and not-for-profit Internet access providers to develop and conduct training [for] users of State-supported Internet access providers and gateways."
Recommendation 16 [page 20 of the Report] stipulates that if the Governor and the General Assembly determine ''that some level of State-supported Internet access service should be provided to the general public and/or to specified new and emerging businesses" then certain guidelines need to be formulated regarding who is eligible for what assistance and under what conditions.
Recommendation 18 [page 24 of the Report] urges the Council on Information Management (CIM) to issue "standards and guidelines" to help State agencies and State-supported institutions to protect the integrity, reliability and validity of their networks and the information resident on those networks "from unwarranted or destructive incoming Internet traffic.
Tier III. Financial Recommendations, which become relevant after a decision has been made that the Commonwealth will find some level of access to the Internet for certain persons and purposes.
Recommendation 13 [page 17 of the Report] urges the Governor and the General Assembly to task "the State Corporation Commission to initiate discussions with appropriate industries and companies to develop a plan to establish reasonable Internet connect costs for all Virginians."
Recommendation 15 [page 19 of the Report] advises that the State first, continue its negotiations with the private sector to explore strategies to stabilize both the architecture and the capitalization of Va.Pen and VERNet" and second, "that the future financing and architecture of VLIN be included in those discussions."
Recommendations 16 [page 20 of the Report] stipulates that if the Governor and the General Assembly determine ''that some level of State-supported Internet access service should be provided to the general public and/or specified new and emerging businesses" then the Governor and the General Assembly should consider "funding one-time Internet access grants for key new and emerging businesses in the Commonwealth."
Recommendation 17 [page 21 of the Report] urges that "in order to provide equitable, affordable Internet connect costs throughout Virginia State agencies develop a coordinated contracting approach for all state-supported Internet access services" and that "the State explore ... contracting for such services with all potential Internet access providers."
HJR 76 stipulates that the Committee's principals include only the Board of The Library of Virginia and the Department of Information Technology. While the principals expanded participation to include other agencies and points of view, this Report represents the consensus of the two principals on all of the issues the Committee and its participants addressed, save two. First, the principals discussed but could not agree that tax advantages should be offered telecommunications companies or other Internet access providers which can provide reduced Internet access rates to remote and rural areas of the State. Second, the principals discussed, ad nauseam, but failed to agree on what guidelines, protocols or standards are needed to assure the confidentiality of personal information and data the State makes available online. There is discussion of both matters in the Report. There are no recommendations on either issue.
Finally, Appendix III to this Report includes a description and an analysis of the Commonwealth's present information infrastructure. Appendix III also includes one Scenario for further developing and improving the current infrastructure.