Original Paper November 1998
E-Commerce can mean lots of things from traditional EDI to online purchases. While the technical issues have been addressed and business is adopting the technology, what are the legal and social issues to be considered?
The University of Texas, Centre for Research into E-Commerce, defines E-Commerce as having evolved from the meagre notion of electronic shopping, to mean all aspects of business and market processes enabled by the Internet and World Wide Web technologies. It goes on to elaborate that Electronic Commerce is more than online sales of goods and services but, a new market which will revolutionise business processes.
The evolution of E-Commerce is also reflected in the transition and development of IBM's E-Business advertising campaigns. The first campaign used the slogan "is it safe?" to position IBM as the reliable approach to the risks of using the Internet. The second campaign, presented a more positive image of E-Business as the enabler, which allows a grandson to maintain traditional Italian village lifestyle and run an international business.
E-Commerce has evolved from the use of the Internet as a marketing tool, into a medium to facilitate secure transactions. Business to Business, and Consumer use of the Internet as a transaction medium has the potential to eliminate the telecommunications and terminal infrastructure costs of ATM, EDI and EFTPOS networks to provide even greater service delivery efficiencies.
The Internet has extended the range of communities to which an individual can belong. These virtual societies, are not restricted by national boundaries and operate across political, cultural and legal jurisdictions. This internationalisation of society, is not unique to the Internet, however, the Internet does challenge the jurisdictions of national boundaries and government influence, control and responsibility in areas such as education, health services, infrastructure, access, equity, industry development and protection, trade, taxation, legislation, regulation and enforcement. For example the rapidity of the recent approval for the prescription of Viagra in Australia (and other countries outside the US), could be directly attributed to its availability over the Internet on its approval in the US.
However, while Secure servers and Digital Signatures provide technical solutions to establishing a trust framework on the Internet. Organisational structures are still needed to certify and enforce the use and implementation of the technology, to provide a basis for the legislative, regulatory and enforcement frameworks and international cooperation necessary to establish Trust in E-Commerce.
The Internet provides a vehicle to trade with remote and marginal markets. E-Commerce is an evolutionary and encompassing notion which extends into the real world beyond the implementation of information technology.
While Dual Key encryption, E-money and secure credit card transactions provide technical solutions to the issues of establishing trust and secure transactions, across the Internet there are a number of Legal and Social issues which need to be addressed before or as E-Commerce becomes widely adopted.
National governments need to develop policy, regulatory and legislative frameworks which are adaptable, enforceable, to the use of E-Commerce. The provision of national Health and Education services need to balance community values, competitive priced services and accessibility. Governments will also be keen to monitor and balance the effect of E-Commerce on taxation revenue streams and opportunities for laundering the proceeds from criminal activities.
Citizens and consumers need to be educated and able to recognise and ensure their privacy, access, equity and consumer interests are preserved against the onslaught of technology, government efficiency and aggressive and innovative business practices.