Government bows to industry pressure over e-commerce Bill

Hundreds of years’ worth of statutes will soon be modernised as a result of the new Electronic Communications Bill, allowing firms to conduct e-commerce more effectively. The Bill, published last week and due for its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, will enable businesses to file their accounts with Companies House electronically […]

Hundreds of years’ worth of statutes will soon be modernised as a result of the new Electronic Communications Bill, allowing firms to conduct e-commerce more effectively.

The Bill, published last week and due for its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, will enable businesses to file their accounts with Companies House electronically by 2002. They will also be able to e-mail their shareholders, who will in turn be able to vote electronically and gain access to company reports via the internet.

The Bill also confirms the legality of electronic signatures, a means of checking the identity of those sending messages through the use of a third party such as an internet service provider. Electronic signatures will be recognised in the law courts to help build trust in e-commerce, according to Patricia Hewitt, the e-commerce minister. Speaking at the publication of the Bill, Hewitt said the revisions had been widely welcomed by business.

The amendments are the result of industry pressure to remove the controversial law enforcement measures giving the police powers to insist encrypted data be decoded. Responsibility for this will now be moved to the Home Office’s Investigatory Powers Bill, allowing the Electronic Communications Bill to focus on the promotion of e-commerce.

Chris Binns, adviser on e-commerce and IT security at the Federation of Electronic Industries, said the move would tidy up the law.

`It is a better Bill since the removal of the encryption section. Business can only flourish in an environment where the possibility of fraud is minimised, but that should be secondary in importance to the promotion of e-commerce.’

`We wanted a Bill that allowed us to get on with the work that makes up 99% of e-commerce, so that the UK can be seen as somewhere where e-commerce can be conducted efficiently and effectively,’ said Binns.

`The consultation has taken a long time, now we want it to be enacted as soon as possible.’