The government's plans to regulate electronic commerce have been damned by an influential committee of MPs, which effectively concluded that almost no legislation is needed.
The scathing attack in a report from MPs on the Trade and Industy committee is a serious blow to the forthcoming electronic commerce bill, expected to be published early next month. It will put the DTI ministers responsible, secretary of state Stephen Byers and IT minister Micheal Wills, on the defensive.
"The rationale for an electronic commerce bill is open to question," the report said, adding that the Government's plans were dominated by, "measures...which are concerned with controlling, not facilitating, electronic commerce."
The controversial and complex key escrow mechanism to enable tapping of encrypted emails was dismissed, with the committee calling for any problems caused by encryption to be handled under the separate Interception of Communications Act, aided by further investment in a specialist cyber crime busting unit.
Existing policy for establishing the legal recognition of digital signatures was criticised for being far too complex and incompatible with existing technologies and law.
Government proposals to establish voluntary licensing for the providers of ecommerce encryption services were rejected in favour of self regulation.
The committee - chaired by Labour MP Martin O'Neill - heard evidence during several weeks of hearings which were dominated by industry criticisms of the bill. Critics ranged from CBI deputy director general, Peter Agar; Cambridge University cryptography expert Ross Anderson. BT chief executive Peter Bonfield held back from outright criticism but called for a wider public debate of the issue.
Government policy: Government must have right to intercept encrypted communications.
Committee response: Handle this under separate Interception of Communications Act. Invest in specialist cyber crime resource unit; promote a greater partnership between law enforcement and industry.
Government policy: Three tier licensing scheme for legalising digital signatures.
Committee Response: Scheme is unnecessary. Most digital signatures already legal, but clarifying statement would be helpful.
Government policy: Voluntary licensing regime for encryption service providers backed by law.
Committee response: Try an industry self regulation scheme first.
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