RealTime IT News

Britain Plans Legal Framework for E-Commerce

Britain unveiled plans for a new legal framework for electronic commerce designed to spur its growth and boost public confidence in using e-mail and the Internet.

But the government appeared to water down earlier proposals to allow police sweeping powers to gain access to coded documents held on computers, according to a Reuters report.

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers said the new proposals--contained in a document entitled "Building Confidence in Electronic Commerce"--would give Britain the most attractive legal framework in the world for doing e-business.

"The way we do business in the future is set to change dramatically. It is essential that Britain is at the forefront of these changes and building trust is crucial," he said.

"Our proposed legislation will. . .start removing the legal barriers to using electronic means, instead of pens and paper. It will also enhance confidence in the technologies which people can use to ensure that others cannot read their credit card data when shopping online and businesses can ensure that sensitive information is not being read by competitors."

The document proposes to allow courts to recognize electronic signatures as legally binding, and said other obstacles in existing law that require the use of paper will be swept away where sensible.

The British Bankers' Association said it welcomed the intention not to discriminate between traditional and electronic ways of doing business.

The paper also signaled the government had been persuaded by the industry not to press for new powers for the police to gain access to documents written in secret codes and held by encryption services, known as Trusted Third Parties, or TTPs.

The government hopes to introduce legislation to parliament in April with a view to the new laws being passed later in the year.