E-commerce poses a challenge to global judicial systems

Courts need new laws to deal with cases involving electronic transactions, so countries and international regulatory groups must collaborate to establish global norms for electronic commerce.

That was the message speakers delivered recently at the seminar "Legal Aspects of Internet Communication", organised by the Caracas Chamber of Industrialists.

Electronic commerce presents many challenges to judicial systems all over the world, but the basic challenge stems from its paperless nature. Thus, electronic transactions lack a hard-copy "original" document and physical signatures and stamps, which are basic elements used by courts everywhere to determine the authenticity and validity of a transaction, speakers said.

"A document as traditionally understood is contained within a physical body like paper. But an Internet document is like a soul in purgatory, incorporeal and condemned to the infinite cyberspace," said Antonio Rosich, an attorney with the firm Rosich, Himiob & Lipavsky in Venezuela.

So, courts need to understand that electronic documents differ substantially from traditional documents and that their validity can't be determined using conventional principles. Ultimately, judges will have more confidence in electronic documents "as security controls and systems that guarantee their validity improve", Rosich said.

Because it's difficult to determine with precision when and where electronic transactions occur, they present a particular challenge to consumer protection laws, another speaker said.

"The place where a contract is signed often determines the rights of the consumer and the obligations of the vendor, so it's hard to establish which jurisdiction's laws apply in a cyberspace transaction," said Juan Manuel Raffalli, an attorney at the firm Anzola, Bóveda, Raffalli & Rodríguez.

These and other legal issues brought about by electronic commerce should be addressed and solved at the international level, beyond individual borders, another speaker said.

"A possible solution would be the creation of independent international entities that would deal with electronic commerce matters," said Albert Brewer, an attorney at the firm Brewer & Brewer in Caracas that specialises in international telecommunications.

Establishing distinct national and international legislation proves impractical because globalism is at the centre of electronic commerce, Brewer said. Instead, these international regulatory groups should be in charge of authenticating, certifying and registering electronic documents using a globally accepted uniform procedure.

Creating national laws dealing with electronic commerce "would only solve local problems. The important thing is to promote international agreements and treaties . . . that would provide a legal uniformity for electronic commerce and grant certain guarantees and legal recourses to users all over the world," Brewer said.

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