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Friday, September 8, 2000

Voter registration
violations must end

Bullet The issue: A check by the Honolulu city clerk's office has uncovered hundreds of illegal voter registrations.

Bullet Our view: The government should investigate the problem and prosecute offenders when appropriate.

DRIVES to encourage people to register to vote are laudable but they carry the danger that persons who are ineligible will sign up -- through ignorance of the law, misunderstanding resulting from lack of proficiency in English, or fraudulent intent. The law allows only U.S. citizens to vote. The so-called motor-voter program, in which driver's license applicants are given an opportunity to register, can easily produce confusion that results in illegal registrations.

That danger has now become fact. A systematic check by the city clerk's office of the voter registration rolls has uncovered about 550 illegal registrations.

City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura, who organized a press conference to announce the findings, said he was concerned that aliens who registered to vote could face deportation. He urged them to take steps to remove their names from the voting register. Yoshimura said he believed many of the illegal registrations were made through ignorance of the law and it would be irresponsible "to brand these folks as criminals."

Hawaii Republican Party chairwoman Linda Lingle called for an investigation by the state attorney general and the federal Department of Justice and criticized the state Office of Elections for what she described as "ineptitude."

Governor Cayetano said he would ask the attorney general to look into the matter but pointed out that the state elections office had participated in the attempt to uncover irregularities.

The discrepancies were discovered by cross-checking the list of registered voters with applicants for state identification cards.

City Clerk Ginny Wong sent letters to the 543 apparently illegal registrants on Oahu warning that it would be illegal for them to vote if they are not citizens and asking them to either submit proof that they have been naturalized or cancel their voter registration. About 120 have responded. The others should do so to avoid the danger of prosecution.

There may be many more illegal voters than the 550 uncovered. Many people do not apply for state IDs and it was only through these applications that the discrepancies were discovered. An informational program addressing this problem seems necessary.

Yoshimura is right that the investigation of the problem should not be a witch hunt. And so is state elections officer Dwayne Yoshina's warning that verification of citizenship must be done in a way that does not target persons on the basis of race or surname.

However, the fact remains that such violations cannot be tolerated and the government must make a serious effort to stop them -- including criminal prosecutions when appropriate -- whether or not the violators are members of a particular racial or ethnic group. The problem should not be ignored out of considerations of political correctness.

In particular, any indication that someone is encouraging aliens to register with a view to influencing the elections fraudulently should be vigorously investigated and, if verified, the perpetrators should be prosecuted.

Internet music

Bullet The issue: A federal judge has ruled against the operator of a Web site from which consumers are allowed to listen to copies of music they own.

Bullet Our view: Copyright laws are properly being enforced in the absence of changes in the laws that take the Internet into account.

OPERATORS of Web sites eventually will be forced to realize that the new medium does not change the nation's copyright laws, although it may lead to revision of those laws. Only weeks after a federal judge ruled that a company was in violation for allowing users to download music from its Web site, another judge has imposed a huge fine on another company for permitting users to merely listen to copies of music they owned.

In July, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered a temporary halt to the use of Napster software to download music. Major record companies comprising the Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster. The order has been set aside while the case is on appeal.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff of New York now has ruled that similarly violated copyright laws and must pay as much as $250 million in compensation to Universal Music Group. settled out of court for an estimated $20 million with four other record companies. Another suit filed against by a group of music publishers is pending.

The law allows consumers to copy their own music CDs and store them on an Internet site, a sort of online locker, allowing them to listen to them anywhere. went one step further, compiling a database of some 80,000 CDs and allowing users to listen to music they own from that database. That is easier for consumers than having to go through the relatively cumbersome process of copying their music and storing it on an online locker. The judge ruled that violated the record companies' copyrights by compiling and providing access to the database.

"Some companies operating in the area of the Internet may have a misconception that because their technology is somewhat novel, they are somehow immune from the ordinary applications of laws of the United States, including copyright law," Judge Rakoff said. "They need to understand that the law's domain knows no such limits."

Copyright laws may need revision to accommodate the Internet in ways that offer protection to producers of music, movies, television, books and other intellectual property. Until then, operators of Web sites should not assume that the Internet provides immunity from the laws on the books.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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