The government is attempting to increase business and consumer
confidence in electronic commerce with new legislation.
The Electronic Commerce Bill, announced in last week’s Queen’s Speech,
aims to modernise the law to enable the UK to compete better in the
digital marketplace and to encourage more people to use the internet for
The government is appointing a digital envoy to oversee the proposals
and to make regular reports on its progress and on international
Under the legislation, online messages will be ’signed’ digitally so
that people can check who has sent the message and ensure that it has
not been tampered with.
Courts will also be allowed to recognise electronic signatures.
’Obstacles in existing laws which insist on the use of paper would be
swept away wherever it made sense to do so,’ said a Department of Trade
and Industry spokesman.
Messages will be kept confidential by means of voluntary licensing
arrangements for ’cryptography’ - the use of digital signatures and
Bodies offering these services will be granted licences and will be able
to offer certificates authenticating electronic signatures.
Electronic messages will be kept secure by means of an accreditation
scheme to assess businesses’ compliance to the national standard on
information security. Those conforming will be granted a certificate,
giving trading partners and customers a greater degree of trust.
In a recent DTI survey, 69% of UK companies cited security fears as a
major inhibition to purchasing through the internet.
It is also proposed that law enforcement agencies will be able to obtain
a warrant to decrypt messages for criminal investigations.
The government aims to provide 25% of its services electronically by the
The legislation was welcomed by a number of companies including new
financial services company Egg, which was designed specifically for
Between 5% and 10% of all applications that Egg has received for new
accounts have come in via its Web site. The company has also found that
around 10% of people who access the site go on to open an Egg account, a
conversion rate which proves the site’s value.
Research from the Henley Centre shows that by the year 2013, two-thirds
of financial products will be sold by electronic means.
Meanwhile, new European Union proposals require that services offered by
companies on the internet comply not only with laws in their own
countries but with those of all its member states.
The Direct Marketing Association is urging the DTI to help change the
proposals because of the high cost of implementation.