Gerstner tells industry to take responsibility

IBM chief executive is 'troubled' by how few industry leaders have addressed the social impact of high-tech

On Monday, IBM chief executive, Lou Gerstner, exhorted his fellow tech leaders to "step up" and address the societal impact of high-tech advances. "That's why I have been troubled by how few leaders in my industry have addressed" these public policy issues, Gerstner said, speaking at a conference on the new economy. "When technology changes, the industry responsible for change is always called upon to take responsibility for the impact of those changes," he said. "If the industry doesn't step (up), government will, and that's no good."

The IBM chief's call to action focused on three issues -- privacy, security and digital trade policy. In all three areas, he seemed to argue in favour of industry self-regulation instead of government intervention. In particular, he cautioned against rushing to act "because it's expedient, because someone is screaming 'Do something!' or because action is in the interest of some special interest".

In the privacy arena, Gerstner particularly focused on a cooperative attitude among government, industry and public policy advocates within the privacy sector. He called for "a new policy framework for privacy" that would combine all three of those factors.

In other cases, he seemed to argue for a stronger government role, at least to the extent that it could protect business interests. In the case of digital trade rights, for instance, Gerstner stressed the importance of maintaining open access to markets. "Existing trade agreements were primarily built on notions of physical presence and national borders," he said. "In the new economy we must start with the conviction that electronic access to markets and customers is as important as physical access is today."

He referred again to government intervention in the area of security, reminding business leaders and officials present at the conference that there will always be "a dark side of human nature". "No brick-and-mortar company would ever consider opening its doors without locks, video cameras and a security staff," he said. "Yet every day, hundreds of Web enterprises do just that."

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