CPAs Demonstrate in Congress
O ne of the developers of CPA WebTrust got a chance to present to Congress the AICPAs new assurance service in the context of consumer protection. Everett Johnson, chairman of the AICPA joint task force (with the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants) on electronic commerce assurance services, testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, presenting to Congress the same message the Institute has been delivering to business: WebTrust can help make e-commerce safe and secure and thus build consumer confidence. He even gave a live demonstration of WebTrust in action so the congressmen could see how it worked.
Johnson pointed out the key problem that WebTrust is designed to address: Although Internet commerce has enormous potential, the public does not feel secure doing business online. Johnson said that WebTrust — because it is a CPA-provided service — can alleviate some of that concern. He emphasized that CPAs have long had an assurance role in U.S. business as auditors of publicly held companies. The profession has a history of making investors more confident in the stock market and can apply these assurance skills to make the public more confident in online commerce. "A strong parallel between the Internet and the development of the securities market exists today," he said, comparing early investors fears about financial statements with current concerns about online purchases.A learning experience
"The subcommittee said it was there to learn," Johnson told the Journal after his testimony. "One member said it was like going back to college." The subcommittee is seeking information because it is concerned about online security and consumer-protection issues in the telecommunications industry in general. For example, the subcommittee cited "slamming" — changing consumers long-distance carriers without their knowledge. How can problems caused by new technologies be solved? "Washington is looking for private, rather than legislated, solutions to a variety of consumer-protection problems and has challenged the private sector to develop workable solutions," said Johnson. "Of course, many companies may choose WebTrust solely for the good of their customers. But the more government talks about the need to address online security, the more companies may see WebTrust as a way to forestall federal intervention."