Maryland Courts High-Tech Sector with New Legislation

In a concerted effort to spur the growth of e-commerce and other technology firms in the state, Maryland Governor Parris Glendening signed 12 technology initiatives into law Tuesday. The legislation is designed to provide new security and privacy protection for consumers and give law enforcement agencies greater crime fighting power.

Glendening expects that the so-called “digital dozen” initiatives will help Maryland compete with Virginia, its better established neighbor to the south. The northern segment of the state boasts some of the most active and influential Internet companies, including America Online and Network Solutions Inc., and a governor — James Gilmore — who has aggressively courted the national spotlight with his views on tax-free e-commerce.

eMaryland Components

The largest part of the new Internet package is the eMaryland initiative, which Glendening’s office says will function by “removing obstacles and creating new opportunities” for businesses. The plan includes laws that will establish a “CEO Board of Advisors” to counsel the Governor and Maryland’s Information Technology Board on how the future of the Internet and e-commerce should develop in Maryland.

Another law in the eMaryland initiative expands the state’s Internet Technology Investment Fund to permit investment in application service providers, which offer software programs for short-term and long-term rentals directly over the Internet. This move, the Governor’s office says, “will enable state agencies, public education facilities and Internet start-ups in university-sponsored incubators to offer their services more cheaply and efficiently.”

The initiative also adds more members of the private sector, particularly high-tech and telecommunications executives, to the state’s Information Technology Board.

Catering to Software, E-Commerce Firms

Other laws in the “digital dozen” include the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act to establish legal guidelines for the use and licensing of software programs.

“We will protect the intellectual capital of software companies, and promote the further growth of the digital economy,” the state legislature said in recommending the bill. The legislature also passed the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act to provide legal recognition for electronic signatures and other online transactions.

The law applies only to parties who agree to conduct business electronically. Both “uniform” laws have been circulating through the legislatures of several states and have generally been viewed as attempts to preclude the federal government from dictating how companies do business on the Internet.

Other laws in the digital package provide incentives for Internet start-ups and other tech companies to locate in Maryland, by establishing a business and technology division in the state’s circuit courts and offering a tax exemption for digital telecommunications machinery and equipment.

For Consumers

The legal package also increases penalties for computer hacking or unauthorized access to individual computers or computer-related equipment and software, and makes intentionally causing harm to computers and related equipment a felony.

Less than 25 percent of Maryland government services are currently available online, but like the federal government, Maryland is getting serious about making its own operations Internet-friendly. One of the new laws requires that state agencies put 50 percent of their consumer services on the Net by 2002, 65 percent by 2003 and 80 percent by 2004.

For example, Maryland has now directed its Motor Vehicle Administration to allow drivers to renew their licenses electronically.

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