RealTime IT News

Australian E-Commerce Law Passes, But Holes Remain

The Australian federal government has finally passed the Electronic Transactions Bill, which will give legal equivalence to digital documents in Commonwealth public sector agencies' transactions.

However, the Government has not tabled legislation on privacy which it has been promising for some time, and has come under fire from privacy advocates.

The Electronic Transactions Bill passed the Senate on Friday after six months of Parliamentary process, and will come into effect some time next year.

The law still faces its toughest hurdle, however: due to the federal nature of Australia's polity, matching legislation has to be passed by all six States and two Territories for it to have effect across the country.

The major criticism levelled at the bill was that it applied only to transactions with the Government itself, and not for business-to-business or consumer relations. Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams has consistently argued that commercial transactions are governed by State laws.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Chartered Accountants has tried to make up for the deficit in privacy laws in Australia by attaching new privacy disclosure and protection criteria, including aspects of the WebTrust service. WebTrust is a certification service for Web site publishers which meet the ICA's stringent requirements for trustworthiness and credit rating.

Patrick Hoiberg, president of the ICA, said that it was "frightening" to realise that 85 per cent of the top 200 Australian sites sought personal information from their audience, but only six per cent of them were constrained by a privacy policy which met the principles of the Australian Privacy Commission.

"What the new criteria do is to ensure that trades on the Web with a WebTrust seal of assurance adhere to principles that give consumers an unprecedented level of confidence to shop on-line," said Hoiberg.