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Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK


Sci/Tech

UK sees Net benefits

Roche: Governments can promote e-commerce by removing barriers

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
The UK government has published an agenda for electronic commerce which Telecoms minister Barbara Roche says will enhance the government's vision of Britain as a leading digital economy.

Mrs Roche announced the release of the document, Net Benefit, at the UK Technology Week conference in London. "Electronic commerce has a vital part to play in realising our vision of tomorrow's Britain - a modern, knowledge-based economy," she said.

Her speech followed that of the Trade and Industry minister Peter Mandelson, who told the Labour Party conference last week that the UK could lead the world in a new industrial revolution being fuelled by the Internet. He promised the government would pass e-commerce friendly legislation.

Off to OECD in Ottawa

Mrs Roche heads for Ottawa on Wednesday to speak at an Electronic Commerce conference called by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). With fellow ministers, she is expected to approve declarations on authentication, consumer protection and privacy for e-trading and to endorse a framework of principles for taxation.

The Net Benefit report says government can help businesses and consumers benefit from e-commerce by promoting the right legal, regulatory and institutional framework to allow it to thrive.

It says the UK leads the world already in areas of technology such as digital broadcasting and the delivery of online financial information, but needs to close the gap with the United States.

Fifty-two per cent of UK companies use e-mail compared to 56 per cent in the US, only 17 per cent of households in the UK have a PC while the figure is 38 per cent in America.

Key concerns over e-commerce growth

Net Benefit gives a checklist of issues to be tackled:

  • Consumer protection - the regulatory framework would have to be kept under review to ensure effective protection for those engaged in e-commerce.

  • Data Protection - privacy is a key concern for users and is tackled in the 1998 Data Protection Act.

  • Potentially objectionable material - some users can be put off using the Internet by the possibility of encountering offensive material. The government wants users to be able to control their own experience of the Net and is encouraging parents to use the filtering tools that are available.

  • Authentication and electronic signatures - the government is proposing legislation to license on a voluntary basis organisations providing cryptography keys to boost users' trust and confidence, the report says.

Revenue and Customs speak out on taxes

A debate is likely at the OECD conference on whether any new Net taxes should be imposed and the UK Inland Revenue and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise issued a joint policy paper on taxation on Tuesday, ahead of the meeting.

It concludes that broad principles should be followed. Taxation needs to be technology neutral, rules should be clear and simple, risks of increased evasion should be minimised, double taxation had to be avoided and collection had to be efficient and economical.

"Tax must not be allowed to stifle the growth of electronic commerce," it says.

Mrs Roche told the UK Technology Week conference that the government had announced targets of procuring 90% of routine goods electronically by 2000/2001 and making 25% of government services available online by 2001.

"The government's vision is of a Britain which is a leading digital economy, and is recognised globally as providing a first-class environment for businesses to trade electronically," she said.



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