E-commerce bill grows up to be an Act

And the Queen would have been the first to sign on the dotted line... if only

The e-commerce bill finished its long run through parliament Thursday but without the hoped-for digital signature from the Queen.

The Electronic Communications Act -- as it is now formally known -- has had a chequered history. Initially loathed, the final draft was cautiously welcomed by industry mainly because it dropped law enforcement clauses such as mandatory key escrow. These issues are now being debated in the equally controversial RIP (Regulation of Investigatory Powers) bill.

E-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt explains why the Act is so important. "It gives us powers to sweep away obstacles in existing laws, which insist on the use of pen and paper, giving people the electronic option wherever possible," she says. To illustrate this, Hewitt hoped the Queen would give royal assent to the bill using a digital signature herself.

Unfortunately the government has found itself in a Catch 22 situation. "Until digital signatures become law, the Queen can't do it," explains an embarrassed DTI spokesman.

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