2003 Review: Legislation - Passing laws

Paul Brislen looks at the progress of legislation that has an impact on the IT field this year. He found that the government is still to pass a key piece of legislation in the electronic arena, but has managed to pass the Electronic Transactions Act.

The government is still to pass a key piece of legislation in the electronic arena, however it has managed to pass the Electronic Transactions Act.

The ETA ensures that electronic transactions are given the same legal status as paper-based transactions and should open the door to companies that want to conduct more business electronically.

Passed in October, response to the ETA has been muted so far - businesses have been slow to respond until some of the legal definitions have been worked out.

The act applies a lot less broadly than many people think, says Ministry of Economic Development policy analyst Andrew McCallum, who played a dominant role in shepherding the legislation into being over four years. It pertains only to statutory requirements in laws and regulations imposed by government agencies.

Communications concerning private arrangements between businesses are still a matter for common law, which the act does not change. Likewise, the requirement for parties to give consent to receiving documents in electronic form only applies to statutory matters.

In private dealings, parties may assume that electronic communications will be valid unless another party to the deal specifically says they are not.

Of the remaining e-legislation, the Telecommunications Act became law at the start of the year and has ensured that an entertaining time has been had by all since then.

The act ensures that the newly anointed telecommunications commissioner Douglas Webb has the power to oversee the new regulatory regime and decide on pricing among other things. So far Webb has looked at some of the great problems of the New Zealand telco environment: interconnection, number portability and wholesaling.

However one notable absence from the government's line up this year has been the Crimes Amendment Bill and its supplemental order paper (SOP) which has raised so much controversy.

The CAB will introduce several new crimes in the electronic realm and will close the loophole that has so worried banks and financial houses since 1999.

In April 1999, Computerworld ran the story about the case R vs Wilkinson — Wilkinson was found to have dishonestly obtained money from a financial institution by claiming to own various vehicles and machinery that could be used as collateral. Although he was found guilty of "obtaining by false pretences", the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour because the bank had electronically transferred the money to Wilkinson's account instead of paying him by cheque or cash. Electronic transactions do not involve the transfer or movement of actual money and so no crime had been committed.

But the SOP to the bill allows police and security services to break the law if they obtain the appropriate warrant. Civil rights groups, including the government's partner the Green Party, are up in arms about what they see as an extension of the police's powers, however both Labour and the National party support the bill in its current form.

The bill is at its final stage and needs only to be read in parliament one last time to become law.

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