The European Union has failed to agree on how to legislate for electronic signatures.
Telecommunications ministers met on Friday to decide whether the legal recognition of electronic signatures should only be linked to certain specific products, such as smart cards, or be more general. (see Newswire 27 November)
Some countries, including France and Germany, want strict laws which dictate what technology can legally be used to generate an electronic signature, while others, including the UK, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands argued that such regulation will create obstacles to the development of ecommerce, and should therefore be left to the market.
The UK government is eager for electronic signatures to gain the same legal weight as hand-written signatures and is in the process of devising the Secure Electronic Commerce Bill to remove existing obstacles to this.
However, it is also aware of the danger of ?over-regulating?, as while it favours the introduction of new laws to protect consumers in the promotion of ecommerce, it acknowledges that the industry believes government involvement should be kept to a minimum.
There is concern that an agreement needs to made quickly as any delay could cause different European countries to introduce incompatible legislation. There are also fears that it could lead to a trade dispute with the US if the EU defines the type of technologies used for the creation of electronic signatures.
Other EU bodies will now take on the task of seeking a compromise between the opposing countries and will meet again in April 1999.
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