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EU hunts down online cross-border lawbook bureaucra-snaggles

But are they dangerous to biz? Commish to 'assess' risks

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The European Commission is to conduct an "in-depth review" of the risks present in conflicting laws and jurisdictions that apply online.

The Commission made the announcement in a new communication it issued last week on internet governance.

The Commission identified "a number of contradictory legal decisions" that have been applied in an online setting and said that the review of risks presented by conflict laws and jurisdiction is merited due to the "sheer quantity of cross-border transactions of various types which take place online".

It said that "a certain degree of legal uncertainty" could arise due to the "complexity and, in some cases, the opaqueness" of both contractual arrangements between businesses and consumers and the "non-contractual obligations" that online businesses and intermediaries are subject to.

EU rules resolve some of these issues within the trading bloc, the Commission claimed, but rules to address conflicting laws and jurisdictions internationally are "insufficiently developed" and this has the potential to harm growth in some online industries that are "cross-border in nature", the Commission said.

The Commission said that its review would reflect the fact that "one single mechanism" may not be suitable for addressing some issues where conflicts of law and jurisdiction can arise.

"The European Commission will launch an in-depth review of the risks, at international level, of conflicts of laws and jurisdictions arising on the Internet and assess all mechanisms, processes and tools available and necessary to solve such conflicts," the Commission's communication (12-page/102KB PDF) said.

"All options for action at the Union or international level will subsequently be carefully considered, including possible legislative initiatives or additional guidelines as needed, subject to appropriate impact assessments. This work will build on existing policies."

The Commission's communication also called for a change in the way the internet is governed. It called for the globalisation of ICANN, the body that oversees the identification of websites, and IANA, the body that is responsible for responsible internet protocol resources such as domain names and IP addresses. It also called for multiple stakeholders, not just governments, to have a say in internet governance matters, among other things.

EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "Some are calling for the International Telecommunications Union to take control of key Internet functions. I agree that governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the internet as a fast engine for innovation."

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