UK firms jeopardised by absence of e-signature law

The Government's failure to implement a European law governing digital certificates has placed UK companies in an uncertain...

The Government's failure to implement a European law governing digital certificates has placed UK companies in an uncertain position when claiming compensation for faulty certificates, e-commerce experts have warned.

The European Union's Electronic Signature Directive, which came into force in July, aims to encourage the use of electronic signatures - one of the cornerstones of secure e-commerce.

However, unlike other European governments, the UK Government has yet to implement the law. The directive outlines a clear framework that makes certificate providers liable for damages in the event of a security breach or inaccurate data in the digital certificate.

Under the directive, providers of digital certificates, such as Consignia and Identrus, must prove that they were not negligent if a customer has a problem with one of their certificates.

Alison Welterveden, a partner in the IT and e-commerce group at law firm Tite & Lewis, said the Government's failure to implement the directive is bad news for digital certificate users and suppliers. "If something goes wrong during an online transaction it is rather uncertain what you could do to remedy it or what [the solution] would look like," she said.

"The failure to implement the directive is yet another example of the failure to encourage e-commerce in the UK."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade & Industry said the Government had partly implemented the Electronic Signature Directive when it introduced the Electronic Communications Act 2000.

However, she said the Government does not have a date for fully implementing the directive. It is currently involved in a second round of discussions with industry figures after an earlier consultation period ended in June.

Business groups have warned that member states in the European Union are taking wildly different approaches to the implementation of the digital signature legislation.

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