UK Internet Association Attacks E-Commerce Bill

Earlier this week, the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) blasted the British government’s eagerly anticipated e-commerce bill. The group claims the proposed legislation’s priorities are askew and that it will stifle, rather than foster, the growth of online business.

The Electronics Communications Bill — dubbed the e-commerce bill — was published in July with a mission of advancing e-commerce and the UK’s strength in the digital economy. Many experts agreed that the section of the bill that covers electronic signatures, making them legally admissible in courtroom proceedings, is a positive step. Civility and accord end there, however.

ISPA says that the bill is convoluted and that it places a disproportionate amount of emphasis on law enforcement efforts. The organization is not alone, and has in fact joined a swelling chorus of dissenters, including civil libertarians and other members of the online business community.

Contentious Encryption Issues

Among the four primary components that make up the Electronic Communications bill, the “Investigation of Protected Electronic Data” section has drawn the most fire. According to the draft, Internet users who fail to produce keys to encrypted data upon law enforcement demand could face a two-year prison internment. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who tip off subscribers to the fact that they’re under investigation could be slapped with a five-year jail sentence.

“These provisions directly affect employees of ISPs and expose them to a potentially disproportionate penalty,” commented ISPA chairman Tim Pearson in a ZDNet UK interview. Additionally, ISPA and others are concerned that the bill is too severe and could undermine the cause of the rights of online consumers.

Civil libertarians have also pointed out that the bill would leave a door open for add-on provisions that could further compromise privacy and deter advancements in encryption technology usage. Encryption issues are seen by many experts as critical to e-commerce and gaining the necessary trust of potential online consumers.

Both Sides Still Have Time

According to Microsoft UK chairman David Svendsen, in a Reuters report from London, “the bill is a huge step toward the UK maintaining its leadership position in the global digital economy.” Svendsen held out the electronic signatures component as compelling reason to support the bill.

ISPA is planning to submit a formal response to the Department of Trade and Industry this fall. The proposed legislation will be voted on in the next session of Parliament. Other sections include “Cryptography Service Providers,” which sets forth voluntary licensing, and “Miscellaneous and Supplemental,” which addresses telecommunications regulation.

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