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EU members fail to agree on crypto directive

States split over whether to allow market to define technology for digital signatures

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EU technology minister Martin Bangemann yesterday slammed France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Portugal for the "old attitudes" to new technology, after the four failed to agree with other EU member states on a unified cryptography policy. Britain, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands believe that specific technical requirements for a secure electronic signature system should be set by the expanding e-commerce market, and not by the EU. Their opponents, however, believe a lead should be taken by member states to encourage consumer confidence. Speaking after the meeting ended with no agreement between the two camps, Bangemann sided with the UK and its supporters, saying that those countries demanding a legislated approach had not realised how fast e-commerce technology was changing. Rigid controls would cause trade conflicts, he warned. "[Some] member states are not aware what they are doing," he added. "They are underestimating the developments in information society technology. They believe they can meet these new developments with their old attitudes." Concern over the security of online transactions, which electronic signatures are designed to ensure and authenticate, has been widely seen as the key stumbling block to the widespread acceptance of e-commerce. The draft EU directive aims to put electronic signatures, providing they are certified by authorised third-parties, on the same legal footing as handwritten signatures. However, the European Commission wants the directive to focus on the certification and authorisation processes, not the technology underlying them. ®

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