The latest set of guidelines released by the National Computing Centre (NCC), Legal Minefields on the Net, will make sobering reading for IT directors that are looking to forge ahead into the electronic-enabled business world, writes Julia Vowler.
The guidelines emphasise the need to tread slowly and carefully until all legal "mines" - intellectual property rights, data protection, contract law, taxation and libel among them - have been safely detonated.
As the guidelines point out, legal problems arise not, as popularly argued, because e-business takes place in location-less cyberspace, but because it takes place in multiple locations.
"The global environment of cyberspace is a place without borders, not a place without locations," warn the guidelines.
So, the problem is one of whose laws apply and whether or not the laws being applied change as the e-transaction crosses a national border at any point in the whole process, from advertising through to fulfilment?
The problem is one of time. A business strategy can be changed in a second by a chief executive. But it takes months to implement the IT that underpins this new strategy, and even longer still to change the legal environment in which it exists - or even agreeing what that environment is.
The guidelines reject one proposed solution to this frustrating situation - that we should sidestep the entire issue and let the Internet be entirely unregulated - as untenable.
This is because, although some elements of e-business, such as digital signatures, are pushing into new territory, most are already covered by existing laws.
Digital signatures, ironically, "may be easier to resolve, since they start from scratch," say the guidelines.
"But much less tractable are the situations in which existing laws must be adopted, adapted, modified or incorporated," say the guidelines.
But whatever happens, "national laws will not be repealed because of the Internet."
To get a copy of the NCC guidelines: Legal Minefields on the Internet, contact the NCC on 0161 242 2121