The European Commission last week proposed a Directive which would bring Ecommerce into line with the Single Market principles of free movement of services and freedom of establishment.
If the proposal becomes an EC Directive, it will force individual member states to implement the Directive in national law. Contro-versial measures are included that would allow member states to impose restrictions on online businesses in other member states on a case by case basis if necessary to protect the public interest.
This could include steps to ensure the protection of minors; the fight against hatred on grounds of race, sex, religion or nationality; public health or security; and consumer protection.
Yaman Akdeniz, head of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK), said: "Such proposals will create difficult political problems in the future, and in most cases it would be difficult to impose such restrictions even on a case by case basis."
The proposal clarifies several points. It defines the "place of establishment" of a business as "the place where an operator actually pursues an economic activity through a fixed establishment, irrespective of where Web sites or servers are situated". This would prevent businesses setting up servers overseas so as to bypass local laws.
The Directive would also require businesses "to make available to customers basic information concerning their activities", including an Email address, trade register number and VAT number.
To complement the EC Directive on electronic signatures, the proposal states that "it must be possible for contracts to be concluded online".
This would encourage the use of digital signatures and lift consumer trust in Ecommerce.
Most importantly, the proposal would "establish an exemption from liability for intermediaries where they play a passive role as a 'mere conduit' of information from third parties", a measure that ISPs would welcome.
This would include situations in which network providers store data temporarily, such as for Email, newsgroups or backups.
The proposal also tackles the subject of unsolicited Email, or spam, requiring that "commercial communications by Email are clearly identifiable".
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