Internet banks stalled by legal confusion

The next government will face urgent demands from financial services companies for new legislation after two major e-commerce...

The next government will face urgent demands from financial services companies for new legislation after two major e-commerce initiatives were put on hold because of conflicts between the Data Protection Act, Computers Misuse Act and the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations (1997).

Internet banks and Virgin Money have decided to delay the roll out of account aggregation services until they have received confirmation that they will not be contravening existing data protection laws.

Account aggregation services allow users to view various online accounts, including e-mail, from one secure Web page. There is concern that security may be compromised because users need to surrender to the aggregator passwords and account details for each account they wish to view.

Tony Wood, director of communications at Virgin Money, said: "We planned to launch the V-safe aggregation service this summer, but it is likely that we will launch in autumn. What has been a particular concern for us is the Copyright and Rights in Database Regulations legislation.

"There is one interpretation that says if we take data from one source and display it on our site, we could be in breach of the rules. We intend to get clarity on that issue before we go to launch."

A spokesperson for Egg said: "Security is paramount and any service that we offer our customers will always meet our stringent standards. We are committed to taking the responsible aggregation route, that is, making sure that we behave within the terms of the legal requirements. While we think account aggregation services have great consumer benefits, we are waiting to see what happens in the market first. "

Last week the banking regulatory body, the Financial Services Association (FSA), informed businesses and consumers that its current powers did not extend to regulating account aggregation services.

Phillip Thorpe, managing director of the FSA, said: "The key message for consumers is that the FSA will have no powers to regulate the provision of account aggregation. This activity will fall outside the jurisdiction of the FSA and as a result we cannot guarantee you the protection of the regulatory system if something should go wrong."

Both Egg and Virgin Money said they wanted to comply with any new legislation.

Rupert Battcock of solicitors Nabarro Nathanson said: "The issues are not insurmountable." But he added that the banks might raise concerns about database right and copyright infringement.

Arlene Martin

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