NEW MEDIA: Bill to aid online trade

The government is attempting to increase business and consumer confidence in electronic commerce with new legislation.

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

e-commerce issues.

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

year 2002.

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.


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