The Hill on The Net
A Chat on the Microsoft Network - 6/27/96


Host Tom McMail:
Today, we are talking with Chris Casey, author of "The Hill on the Net" a new book about Government, politics and the Internet. You may ask questions for Chris in the Questions Room, and see answers to selected questions here. Welcome Chris!

Chris Casey:
Thank you for having me

ellafitzgerald asks:
How could Congress improve its presence on the Intenet?

Chris Casey:
Well the first step could be for more members to get themselves on line. There are currently 85 Senators with email and 75 on the web. In the house of representatives, almost 200 with e-mail a few more come on line each week, But as more members get themselves on line, other congressional information needs to become available as well. Items such as hearing testimonies and bill mark-ups and committee reports.will go a long way to improve access on the net.

MConnolly:
How will the Internet change the future of American politics?

Chris Casey:
I believe the great potential of the internet and politics is that it will provide the ability of the people to pursue and view their government in a way heretofore unavailable, for example, reading the text of a bill on line, following the congressional record and emailing your position on the issues to your representatives and senators in a timely enough manner to still have an impact. This will greatly improve our process.

Vince_Brown:
Do you think that Congress will do anything to stimulate free trade?

Chris Casey:
America leads the way in the development and use of the Internet and although the Internet is a world wide phenomena..... American businesses and American customers have a great deal to gain by its continued growth and I suspect members who understand this will work to facilitate the Internet growth.

littlesi:
Is there any way to make a site an "official government site" so that the electorate looking for the facts will not be fooled by satirists?

Chris Casey:
This is a dilemma that is likely to become more prevalent in the near future. I am not aware of any sites that parody any government sites but sites that parody campaign sites are there and are sometimes thought to be the real thing. If the site is a dot gov, (.gov) domain you can be pretty comfortable that it is a real site but campaigns which more frequently operate in the .com and .org areas are available for parody and net browers should be skeptical.

MConnolly:
Why do you think some members of Congress have been slow to get on the Net and set up e-mail addresses where their "netizen" constituents can reach them?

Chris Casey:
Because some of them are waiting to see how the others are handling it. I frequently tell the members of congress it is not a matter of if they will go on the Internet but "when". Just as once persons were reluctant to install a phone in the office, so will there be with congressmen regarding the net, but in the end being on the net will become as routine as being on the phone today.

-jonesie-:
Do mailing rules, such as apply to elections, apply to congress regarding "netizens"?

Chris Casey:
In the senate election year rules prohibit a senator who is facing election from sending mass mailings during the 60 days prior to election. Most members of congress send e-mail out only in response to incoming messages and not as unsolicited conversations. In the senate, senators facing election are also prohibited during this time from posting on the Internet senate server.

jaxon-:
I'll try this again....Hi Chris, is it possible to check the net for PDC (public disclosure commission) and PAC funds for National as well as State Officials?

Chris Casey:
Hello back, Good question. The FEC recently unveiled its home page on the www, it can be found at www.fec.gov. This site contains information including campaign disclosure reports for Congressional candidates, but I do not believe it has information about state officials.

ellafitzgerald:
Why are the senators prohibited from posting on the Internet senate server?

Chris Casey:
They are prohibited prior to their election in order to prevent any impression that an incumbent is using this tax payer financed Internet site to promote their own re-election efforts. Although their official congressional sites may come under election year restrictions, they can and certainly will establish separate Internet sites paid for and maintained by their campaign.

pumkinhead asks:
Are any of the Congressional service agencies on-line? For instance, does the CBO have any plans to release their reports over the net?

Chris Casey:
Yes, many congressional support agencies including the CBO make information available on the Internet. A good starting point for locating legislative branch resources on the Intenet, is a site that I created called CAPWEB which can be found on the web at Policy.Net.

Host Tom McMail:
Chris can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into this?

Chris Casey:
Sure, I am from Huntington Beach , CA. Graduated from University at Santa Barbara having studied Political Science. I have no formal Computer training or background but throughout college, I used a personal computer, a Mac. Four years ago when I found myself seeking a job on capital hill, I responded to an ad advertising a systems adm. position in the all Macintosh of a Senate Democrat. That turned out to be Senator Kennedy. Happy to again have a job I was unsure if I had gone to college in order to come to congress and unjam printers and became interested in putting the Senator online. I was Senator Kennedy's computer guy for 3 years. The success of his online efforts caught the attention of other members of congress and I now work for the democratic leadership in the Senate helping senate democrats get on the net.

jaxon-:
Regarding "Watch" pages, it seems that this would be an opportunity for some heavy propaganda. It would seem this would confuse the voters more then they already are. Is there any way to keep these pages true?

Chris Casey:
One of the strengths of the Internet is the ability it provides any individual to develop their own content and get distribution in the on line world. As I mentioned before regarding parody pages, Internet browsers must remain highly skeptical of the material and consider the source of the content.

-jonesie- Asks:
Is there an oversight group who checks into congressional correspondence to make sure any rules and regulations are being followed?

Chris Casey:
To my knowledge, nobody is reading congressional email anymore than they would be reading the content of snail mail content. Senate rules require that any use of Internet services of the senate be only for official purposes.

pumkinhead:
Do you think internet users represent a realistic cross-section of the American electorate?

Chris Casey:
Not yet, but they will. Approximately 30 percent of American households have a personal computer, 50 percent teen age children have computers or access to a personal computer. The net use is going to continue to rise. Eventually reaching the same level of saturation as telephones have today. With so many members of the American public using the net as a medium of communications, “netizens “ should be able to expect their officials to be there.

-jonesie-:
Are hackers a real or imagined threat to the congressional network?

Chris Casey:
A little of both. Congress has genuine security concerns for protecting the information on their computers. But sometimes the threat of hackers is used as a convenient excuse by members of congress who in fact just are not prepared to go online.

littlesi:
What is the advantage of a national campaign over a state wide campaign on the Internet?

Chris Casey:
A national campaign naturally seeks a national audience. The smaller the potential pool of voters of a state wide campaign, reduces the size of the potential voters to be found on the net. A candidate for the house seeks to represent a district with 600,000 people, only some of whom are of voting age...only some of those are registered to vote,....only some of those have access to the net, only some of those will visit the candidate’s site. The task therefore becomes more difficult.

pumkinhead:
To follow the cross-section question, even if everyone has the potential, will everyone use it? I just don't see my grandma getting on-line, ya know?

Chris Casey:
Okay, the Internet has provided an additional means of communicating with congress. It has not led to the demise of more traditional means. A letter from your grandma, to her senator or representatives will be welcome for a long time to come.

MConnolly:
Please discuss the government's restricting of access to Internet site, like those that show how to build a bomb that could be utilized in acts of terrorism?

Chris Casey:
Following the Oklahoma bombing, a great deal of attention was focused on the fact that bomb making info is available on the Internet. Although restricting such material in other medium such as print would not be thinkable. Members sometimes seek to apply different rules to the net. I believe that as more members of congress bring their own offices online and become more understanding of the Internet they will as a result be better equipped to deal with Internet related issues.

-jonesie-:
Earlier you spoke about all of members who are online (mail, the web, etc) Is there an easy way for us to access them? An online directory per se?

Chris Casey:
Okay, the site that I mentioned earlier CAPWEB is my own effort to create a starting point for locating legislative branch information on the Internet. Among the things you will find at CAPWEB, links to directories, email addresses and urls, that is policy.net.

-jonesie-:
How do senators protect themselves against fraud. It's very easy to assume an identity online.

Chris Casey:
Good question. Most members of congress request that email messages sent to them contain a postal address to which a reply will be sent. This permits them to know whether the sender is a constituent of their own, something that an email address will not always tell them.

pumkinhead:
Do you know of any up coming elections occurring at either the legislative or executive level that are staging a virtual debate?

Chris Casey:
I think perhaps there will be efforts to arrange online debates for the 96 campaign,but I suspect that is an idea that may be before its time...In 1994, the candidates for Senate and Governor in Minnesota participated in online debates. Earlier this year, Jim Warren, who wrote the forward to my book, tried to arrange on line debates among the Republican candidates for president. This effort failed when none of the major candidates agreed to participate.

MConnolly:
Please explain "auto-acknowledgment" and the government official's present method of responding to their constituency.

Chris Casey:
Typically emails to Congress is acknowledged by an automatic reply with an individual reply often sent only to constituents via snail mail. This approach provides a first step for Congressional staff who are struggling to become accommodated to managing constituent mail. Eventually, members of congress are likely to reply with e-mail. But their auto-responses will remain in place as a deterrent to those individuals who attempt to bury them in email.

jaxon-:
Regarding the Foley race. The former speaker, as you mentioned, became the first speaker in 134 years not to be elected. Wasn't it the "netizens" who raised the funds to oust him?

Chris Casey:
They certainly played a role. No one can be certain that it was a decisive factor. But the fact that Foleys campaign was not on line defending itself, offers a lesson that other incumbents are likely to avoid repeating.

littlesi:
Should candidates who use the Internet as a campaign device carry this usage into office?

Chris Casey:
Absolutely, for all the same reasons that the Internet is a useful tool for candidates to communicate with voters, it is a useful tool for elected officials to communicate with their constituents. I expect many of the victorious candidates who win office this Nov. and who have held online campaigns to carry their presence as members of congress onto the Internet.

Host Tom McMail:
What is the most innovative use of online technology you have seen from our electorate?

Chris Casey:
Hmmmm...

Host Tom McMail:
Great, what is it?

Chris Casey:
I expect to see many members of congress use the Internet to promote their own positions on various issues, lobbying for support among the online public. Senator Patrick Leahy of VT well known as among the most net savvy of congress was among the first to do this when he developed a home page to promote his efforts to end the use of land mines. Many others have followed this example creating special pages of their own. Most recently house minority leader Dick Gephartt who participated in an online forum in the Washington Post’s new web site last night to promote the Democrats Family First agenda.

WAZZUCOUG:
Does the President keep abreast of issues through The Net? E-Mail on his jet? etc. etc.

Chris Casey:
I don't imagine the President finds himself continually interrupted by turning to a PC in the oval office when it beeps to announce he has new email. Neither do most members of congress. But the fact that they have put their own offices online is a strong indication that they have taken notice of the net. They sometimes hire people like me to watch it for them...

andersod:
What are your views on intranet applications in congress for sharing information?

Chris Casey:
Congress has already developed intranets both and the house will use them. This will facilitate communication between members and between support offices of congress.

Host Tom McMail:
Thanks for your time Chris, hope we can talk again in the near future, thanks for coming!

Chris Casey:
Thank you all for your great questions. I have enjoyed this immensely.

Host Tom McMail:
Thanks Chris, and good night!


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