Expert Group urges equal treatment for electronic information

Information in electronic form should not be denied legal effect because of its electronic format; an electronic data message should have the same legal power as any document in writing; and appropriate electronic identification should be equivalent to a signature.

These are some of the main recommendations in a report from the Attorney General's Electronic Commerce Expert Group (AGECEG).

Mark Sneddon, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne and consultant to legal firm Clayton Utz, summarised the recommendations of the AGECEG report at Clayton Utz's Electronic Commerce Seminar yesterday.

The report urges that Federal legislation should eliminate legal obstacles to e-commerce and lessen legal uncertainty surrounding the use of electronic messages and electronic signatures; it suggests that the legislation should cover all procedures for electronic authentication, not just digital signatures; it recommends that legislation should have broad coverage over all data messages in trade, commerce and government, with some exceptions such as wills and some consumer transactions.

Sneddon said the recommendations made in the report spring from three basic policy positions:

* Electronic commerce and paper-based commerce should be, as far as possible, equal in the eyes of the law* The law should not discriminate between different technologies* Australia should follow the framework of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in broad terms, with some amendments, with the goal of facilitating international harmonisation and standards.

The full report can be viewed at http://www.law.gov.au/aghome/ and is open for comments until the end of May.

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