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UK Finally Introduces E-Commerce Bill

22 November 1999

The UK Government introduced its long-awaited Electronic Communications Bill this week, but without the controversial law enforcement provisions, which will be enacted separately.

The Bill establishes a legal framework for e-commerce in the UK by recognising electronic signatures and digital certificates and giving them the same legal status as written signatures in court proceedings. It also establishes a voluntary industry licensing scheme for e-commerce security providers that offer authentication and encryption services.

Initial reactions to the Bill have been mixed. Industry representatives, while supportive of the principles of the Bill do not believe that it goes far enough, as it does not attempt to address more fundamental legal and fiscal issues affecting e-commerce such as service providers' liability, intellectual property rights and taxation that are currently being debated in international forums. Despite these misgivings, the recognition of electronic signatures should still provide a vital boost to the fledgling UK e-commerce industry when it is put into effect.

The Government has not yet announced a timetable for implementation of the Bill, and will need to prepare a significant amount of secondary legislation before it can do so. There are said to be more than 30,000 mentions of written signatures in the body of UK primary legislation, presumably not including case-law.

The good news is that passage of the Bill virtually assured now that its controversial law enforcement provisions have been removed. These clauses would give police the power to decode encrypted internet messages and will instead become part of a new bill to amend the Interception of Communications Act.

Full details of the Electronics Communications Bill are available on the UK Department of Trade and Industry website (


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