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.

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