ABA group calls for global net commission

An American Bar Association (ABA) committee yesterday said laws around the globe need to be changed and unified in order to keep up with the constant changes brought about by the internet and to ensure fairness and a solid legal structure for businesses and customers engaging in e-commerce transactions.

The 100-member committee, which has spent the past two years reviewing online legal and jurisdictional issues, issued a report recommending the formation of a "global online standards commission" that would establish a legal framework for the future of e-commerce and oversee internet-related disputes across different national borders.

The report, which hasn't been considered for adoption by the full ABA, was released on Monday at the legal group's annual conference in New York. It will be the subject of additional reviews next Monday in London at another ABA meeting.

The ABA committee reviewed a myriad of legal issues revolving around the internet, including online privacy, consumer protection, intellectual property rights and laws related to banking, securities, taxes and gambling. It also examined potential changes that regulatory agencies in different countries may have to make to keep pace with the internet.

ABA spokesman Al Manning said the report by the organisation's Global Cyberspace Jurisdiction Project shows that new legal structures are needed to keep up with technology changes. "The current jurisdictional system is based on geography," with countries having laws that end at their borders, Manning said.

But the internet "is not based on geography", he added.

The first step to maintaining legal rights and responsibilities in an e-commerce world is through the creation of standards that will protect consumers and businesses as they use the internet and other new technologies, Manning said. The internet "is a freewheeling device . . . but there have to be some standards", he said.

Hillard Sterling, a technology lawyer at Gordon & Glickson LLC in Chicago, said creating the kind of global commission recommended by the ABA committee would be a sound move. "This really is a new universe of potential disputes," Sterling said. "Each day brings new, unprecedented issues that necessitate the courts having to invent the rules."

The problem with the existing system, Sterling said, is that global legal standards are difficult to create because rules governing the internet are interpreted differently from country to country. But such standards are needed to ensure that e-commerce is regulated consistently around the world and that businesses and consumers have equal means of legal recourse in the event of disputes, he added.

In addition to calling for the creation of a standards commission, the committee also suggests that a cybertribunal and voluntary industry councils be organised to develop private-sector mechanisms for resolving e-commerce disputes. Safe-harbour agreements between nations are also supported by the committee to resolve cross-border jurisdictional conflicts.

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