E-commerce Bill laid out

Government produces unnervingly good legislation

It's not often that you get to agree with politicians, but with the relocation of Part III of the e-commerce bill and the surprisingly candid summary of responses to its original draft, it seems as though Tony Blair may have come up trumps. The bill itself creates a public register and voluntary approval process for ecommerce providers; modifies legal requirements for authorising ecommerce transactions; and allows electronic signatures and authenticity certificates to be admissible as evidence in court cases. The controversial Part III, which dealt with police seizure powers for encryption keys, has been shifted into a separate Home Office bill. The government stated several months ago its intention to make the UK a haven for e-commerce. And apart from the worrying fact that the plan came soon after Bill Gates had popped over for a chat, there has been general applause for such forward thinking. The remarkable thing is that the government has actually listened to criticism, acted on it, and produced a bill of practical use that should sail though parliament (isn't this supposed to be the way government works?). Praise has been heaped on the first draft, with Intel's director of government affairs Keith Chapple for one using such words as "delighted" and "fully agree". Even its detractors have unanimously declared it a step in the right direction. The bill is not perfect, however. Further legislation is required to remove the need for printed documents and physical signatures -- paramount to the heavy uptake of online commerce. The speed with which the government can get this change into law -- while also addressing consumer concerns -- will be a litmus test of the dream's future. ®

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