HC Deb 27 April 1998 vol 311 cc26-7W
Dr. Ladyman

To ask the President of the Board of Trade how the Government intend to encourage electronic commerce; and if she will make a statement. [40083]

Mrs. Roche

The Information Age strategy launched by the Prime Minister on 16 April 1998 demonstrates the Government' s commitment to electronic commerce. Electronic commerce is crucial to the future prosperity of our economy and to the competitive position of our industries, and the UK is well placed to play a leading role. Building on the success of the Programme for Business, the Government are now putting in place the policy and legal framework in which electronic commerce can flourish. From schools to high finance in the City the Government are committed to ensuring everyone benefits from advanced electronic communications.

It is also important to make electronic commerce more secure. Users cannot afford to let the information they transmit across the Internet (or any other network) be compromised. They must have confidence that both the integrity and confidentiality of their information will be protected. At the same time, users must be able to trust both the technologies which allow such security and the commercial organisations providing it. To that end, I am announcing today proposals for legislation to introduce voluntary licensing arrangements for bodies offering cryptographic services to the public to ensure that minimum standards of quality and service are met. They will apply to both Certification Authorities (providing electronic signature services) and other bodies providing encryption services. The arrangements will set minimum technical and competence standards for bodies that wish to seek licences. The legislation will also enable users to place greater reliance on digital signatures, through a presumption of legal recognition for those signatures generated by licensed Certification Authorities. Fuller details of this policy are set out in a Statement which is being lodged in the Libraries of both Houses.

It is not, however, in the interests of business or the public for criminals and terrorists to be able to exploit these new technologies to disguise or conceal their activities. To meet these concerns, the Government will also introduce legislation making provision for law enforcement agencies to gain legal access, under a properly authorised warrant and on a case by case basis, to encryption keys or other information protecting the secrecy of stored or transmitted information. The purpose of these new powers will be to maintain the effectiveness of the existing legislation designed to protect the public from crime and terrorism.