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Britain won't enact e-commerce law on time

The European Union deadline for implementing the E-Commerce Directive is Jan. 17. The U.K.'s stance: It's "too important to rush."

Britain will be one of 10 countries to miss the European Union deadline for implementation of the E-Commerce Directive, which the 15 member states are required to have enforced by Jan. 17.

The U.K. government has delayed proceedings because of the need for further consultation on the legal framework of the directive's requirements. The Treasury will also be launching a separate consultation on implementation of the directive in the financial services industry.

E-commerce minister Douglas Alexander said the government now expects to implement the directive during the summer.

Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg will be the only countries to meet the deadline. "It is too important to rush," said Alexander. "The U.K. is not alone in this approach, with most other member states working to a similar timescale."

The e-commerce industry is worth $82 billion (57 billion pounds) in the United Kingdom alone, according to Department of Trade and Industry statistics. The EU directive is intended to safeguard the rights of the consumer, and make sure that the service provider is being up-front about its data processing methods.

It also sets requirements on the information that customers must be given about products, discounts and offers, and clarifies the extent of e-tailers' liability for unlawful information or activities that they carry or store.

The EU directive was approved June 8, 2000. Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, a Web site that monitors civil liberties, is adamant that the U.K. government has little excuse for missing the Jan. 17 deadline.

"A short delay is politically embarrassing, but if there is a long delay, the Commission could take action against them," Bunyan said. Action of this kind is unusual, but it is also possible that disgruntled consumers could also take action against the U.K. government if they feel that they have incurred a loss as a result.

Wendy McAuliffe reported from London.