Sen. Conrad Burns

Internet leader in Congress

Think internet and you might envision San Jose, northern Virginia, the outskirts of Denver — just about any booming suburbia marked by horizons of office parks and dense sprinklings of Starbucks.

Montana? Visions of broadband are probably not dancing through your head, but that hasnt mattered to U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican who has become a leader on Internet issues in Congress.

Burns, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; and Rep. Rick Boucher, R-Va., chairs the Congressional Internet Caucus, a group of more than 150 senators and representatives dedicated to delving into the full slate of sticky issues surrounding the Internet and searching for common ground.

He hasnt run away from the most nettlesome cyberspace issue of the day: Privacy.

In the last Congress, the Montanan drew heat from industry and others for co-sponsoring the Online Privacy Protection Act with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., which would have set federal baseline privacy protection standards. Although many Internet companies are beginning to see a need for such standards, this is not typical Republican rhetoric.

Nor is Burns championing of easing export controls on U.S.-made products containing encryption capabilities, which has pitted him against law enforcement and national defense authorities who fight to keep encryption technologies behind the U.S. border.

Burns, chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, also generally opposes federal filtering laws and has advocated Internet education and telemedicine initiatives.

With Internet issues percolating on Capitol Hill, ex-pect to hear more from cyberspaces indefatigable Montanan.