Information Technology Demystified
A Report from the UniForum Technical Steering Committee
Electronic Commerce and the G7 Initiatives
Major industrialized nations are working to address worldwide public-policy
issues associated with electronic commerce.
By Marty Tenenbaum and Jim Johnson
At their 1994 annual meeting in Corfu, Italy, the leaders of the Group
of Seven (G7) industrialized nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
the United Kingdom and the United States) resolved to address the growing
public policy issues caused by the dawning of the Information Age. The international
growth of the Internet, the rapid development and adoption of new forms
of software and information technology, and telecommunications were beginning
to force world leaders to understand the need to adapt laws, regulations
and government policies to the new paradigm of a global information society.
The G7 countries called for a conference of their cabinet leaders in trade
and telecommunications to meet in Brussels in February 1995. From that meeting
came a list of 11 project areas, which the nations resolved to address in
terms of policies to facilitate the social and economic impact of information
technology. Topping the list was electronic commerce--the creation of a
global marketplace to be made especially available to small- and medium-size
businesses. A working group on electronic commerce was formed to establish
a framework for policy development among the seven nations, and to serve
as a platform for even wider cooperation among all nations.
Because of CommerceNet's strong industry representation and its international
leadership in developing the basic protocols for Internet-based commerce,
the group's founder and chairman, Marty Tenenbaum, was asked to join the
working group. Jim Johnson, president of Eikon Strategies, a policy management
firm for high-tech companies, was asked to chair the group. David Jefferson,
head of the computer labs at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST), and Shirley Hurwitz, manager of NIST's most advanced
work on electronic data interchange (EDI) and database management, represented
the U.S. Government.
Public and Private
Early in these international discussions, it was clear that there were controversial
central policy issues that needed resolving. The U.S. delegation wanted
to push for private industry leadership in developing policies for electronic
commerce, because industry was building the basic global system. Our view
was that policy-making should follow practical experience in the marketplace.
Policy-makers in the U.S. are acting in response to industry initiatives
in the market.
The European Union (EU) and its four G7 member states believed that the
policy issues were so serious that they required careful development by
policy makers in governments, particularly in Brussels, the seat of the
EU. They wanted to slow down the process of build-out of the global marketing
system until all policy issues had been resolved. Their viewpoint flowed
from the greatly centralized policy-making role which the EU has created
in developing a unified Europe.
In September 1995, CommerceNet hosted the seven national delegations for
an extensive tour of briefings by member companies on what they were offering
to the cyber-marketplace; this was a turning point in the negotiations.
The guest countries brought along technical experts from some of their own
companies. It was clear to them that the U.S. had a major practical technology
lead and that U.S. efforts were addressing real problems of electronic commerce,
such as security, privacy, cashless payment systems and interoperability.
The evidence of American company leadership shifted the emphasis of the
negotiations, and the focus on industry leadership was clarified. At the
next G7 meeting in Tokyo, the Japanese opened up access to their own private
companies. The U.S. fought to get language into the framework agreement
to allow private, commercial, for-profit electronic commerce ventures to
operate alongside the EU and other government-sponsored projects as testbeds
under the imprimatur of the G7. The Europeans fought inclusion of this private
sector focus in the agreement, but delegates from their own industries pushed
The criteria for the G7 testbeds include projects that are multinational,
with at least three different economies or companies. They can be private-sector
or public projects and must agree to address the core issues of operational
electronic commerce and to publicize their experiences. The projects can
be experimental developments addressing single aspects of electronic commerce--such
as cashless payment systems, security of transactions or database management--or
as comprehensive as global online "minimarketplaces" joining together
customers and sellers across national boundaries. All countries and other
international organizations are invited to join the projects; they are not
limited to the original seven nations. CommerceNet's ongoing international
pilots will be a centerpiece of the U.S. nominations. Moreover, we are eager
to help other U.S. organizations initiate projects and coordinate them with
the appropriate global partners.
Other nominated projects include the Global Engineering Network, nominated
by Germany; the International Business Network, working in cooperation with
the International Chambers of Commerce; the United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development (UNCTAD), nominated by France, Japan and the U.S.;
and the International Business Exchange/Global Business Alliance, nominated
by Canada. The process for consideration is open. If a project receives
endorsement from its home country delegation, there is no second-guessing
by the other countries.
We anticipate that a comprehensive electronic commerce architecture will
evolve out of these experiences, encompassing security, payment, directories,
collaboration, EDI and other key elements of an electronic marketplace.
Because agreeing on technical standards is difficult, emphasis will be placed
on "meta-standards": negotiation protocols and application programming
interfaces (APIs). Such meta-standards enable buyers and sellers to negotiate
which security and payment approaches (and, hence, standards) will be used
in any particular transaction.
Public policies will also evolve from these experiences, such as the following.
How should tariffs and value-added taxes be apportioned among the various
constituencies involved in a transaction? Whose laws and regulations will
apply if a dispute arises? Which rules shall govern the export and use of
strong cryptography? The G7 is seeking to cooperate with other global entities
to resolve these and a host of related policy issues, to build the information
society. There is ample opportunity for the industry to make its voice known
on policy issues.
Project nominations can be sent to http://nii.nist.gov/G7/10_global_mp/testbeds.
The e-mail address for more direct information is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marty Tenenbaum is chairman of CommerceNet in Menlo Park,
CA. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jim Johnson is president of Eikon Strategies in Washington, DC. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.