NEW FRAMEWORK FOR INTERNET COMMERCE

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Indy Politics

Practical measures to make Britain a world leader in Internet commerce are included in the Queen's Speech.

Practical measures to make Britain a world leader in Internet commerce are included in the Queen's Speech.

The Electronic Communications Bill would provide a legal framework for dealing with digital signatures.

It would also clarify the legal position of other means of communicating electronically, such as by e-mail or on the World Wide Web.

With industry increasingly turning to the Internet as a means of doing business, it is crucial that it is granted a sensible legal status.

The Bill would allow for the setting up of a body to regulate providers of encryption services - computer systems that allow people to scramble their message to ensure its contents remain secret.

The fundamental problem with cryptography is that it could also, in theory, be used by criminals to keep their activities secret.

Part Three of the Bill allows for legal interception of encrypted messages - a section required mainly by the Home Office to cover criminal use of the new technology.

It would permit police and other authorities to demand the keys used to un-scramble encrypted messages.

Details of the Bill have been widely criticised by civil rights groups and legal experts.

They say that electronic signatures are already valid under existing law and claim that aspects of Part Three would actually reverse one of the fundamentals of the legal system - the fact that one is innocent until proven guilty.

Someone asked to provide a decryption key would have to prove that they did not possess it - and critics argue that it is impossible to prove a negative.

Finally, Part Four of the Bill deals with technical adjustments to the Telecommunications Act 1984 and is unrelated to the other sections.

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