Britain will be one of ten countries to miss the European Union (EU) deadline for implementation of the E-Commerce Directive. All 15 member states are required to have enforced the Directive within their national laws by 17 January, 2002.
The UK government has delayed proceedings through 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 sector. E-commerce minister Douglas Alexander said, "the government now expects to implement the Directive during the summer."
Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland and Luxemburg will be the only countries to meet the deadline. "It is too important to rush," said Alexander. "The UK is not alone in this approach, with most other member states working to a similar timescale."
The e-commerce industry is worth £57bn in the UK alone, according to statistics from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The EU Directive is intended to safeguard the rights of the consumer, and make sure that the service provider is being up-front about their 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 an e-tailers' liability for unlawful information or activities that they carry or store.
The EU Directive was approved on 8 June, 2000. Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, a Web site that monitors civil liberties, is adamant that the UK government has little excuse for missing the 17 January deadline. "A short delay is politically embarrassing, but if there is a long delay, the Commission could take action against them," said Bunyan. Action of this kind is unusual, but it is also possible that disgruntled consumers could also take action against the UK government if they feel that they have incurred a loss as a result.
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