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.

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