ACT spurns government role in e-commerce

Not only does ACT not have a policy on e-commerce, spokeswoman Patricia Schnauer denies government has any role to play. But she's a bit worried that experts 'have detected a bug that is worse than Melissa'.

Not only does ACT not have a policy on e-commerce, spokeswoman Patricia Schnauer denies government has any role to play.

"E-commerce is doing nicely on its own, so why intervene?" asks Schnauer. "E-commerce will be worth $1 trillion in the next few years so why should government get involved?"

She points to the Eftpos network as an example of an e-commerce activity that has had very little government input but which works "exceptionally well".

Schnauer was speaking at a New Zealand Information Security Forum lunch that also saw the Minister of Justice Tony Ryall speak about changes to New Zealand's laws for the electronic era and Labour's spokesman on commerce, Paul Swain, talk about Labour's soon to be released economic policy.

According to Schnauer: "This session is well timed because it has forced us to work out where we stand on the issue."

Schnauer says ACT is committed to reducing the amount of regulation that prevents small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) from getting started and will actively encourage companies to go online, but would not go any further.

"Privacy, taxation, banking and intellectual property are all issues that need to be dealt with and addressed," she says. ACT would strengthen the Employment Contracts Act to make it "more conducive to job growth" because "businesses have to be able to afford staff".

Schnauer is also wary of government in any country setting laws and policies that take it beyond where other countries are willing to go. "That only makes it harder to compete in the global market."

Labour spokesman Swain is determined that government will have a role in the economy.

"There are two stages to this transformation — we have to shift from a commodities-based economy to a knowledge-based economy [KBE] and we have to determine government's role in this."

Swain wants the government to take an active role not only in promoting New Zealand as a KBE, but also in using the technology itself to help companies and citizens better communicate with government.

"There are four issues here — government needs to be a leader and a model user. It needs to promote New Zealand to foreign companies and it needs to be a key enabler to get New Zealand companies online," says Swain. The first step would see government setting up a "one-stop site" where users can communicate with both central and local government.

Swain says all government departments are obsessed with collecting demographic information and he would like to see that reduced to one portal that will help users avoid having to input the same information over and over again.

He would like to see government follow Telecom's example and start small with a site that enables staff to order stationary and other low-value, high-volume items and build from there.

"Eventually we would have a single-window procurement site where tenders would be announced and RFIs [requests for information] and that sort of thing. Departments would order everything through the site, allowing us to leverage the economy of scale."

By taking small steps into the world of e-commerce, Swain hopes to avoid the problems often associated with government IT projects. He hopes departments can learn from the mistakes that have been made and avoid having to "reinvent the wheel".

"There is no reason why the problems encountered with IRD can't be avoided at WINZ or any of the other departments, but that's not the way they work at the moment."

Swain can't understand why IRD failed to talk with Statistics New Zealand before implementing its ir-File system despite both agencies collecting similar sorts of information from New Zealanders.

In the broader picture of KBE, Swain acknowledges that New Zealand is falling behind the rest of the world and that if we don't act swiftly we will be left behind. Fundamental to this is the education system.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with our tertiary model."

Swain hopes to launch Labour's policy in the next fortnight or so.

One of the most important aspects of New Zealand's e-commerce stance, regardless of party politics, is New Zealand's legal framework. Minister of Justice Ryall hopes to avoid the trap of writing legislation specifically for "cyber-crimes".

"The law has to be capable of adjusting to changing conditions," says Ryall who is working on a definition for hacking.

"We don't want to be constantly introducing laws every time the technology changes. It's much more efficient to define the crime not the technology, that way the technology used is irrelevant."

Ryall is also wary of introducing laws that are too unwieldy. Eavesdropping is the example he uses.

"It makes sense to outlaw eavesdropping on phone calls and even email but any generic law against it would make it illegal to overhear a conversation in a café."

Schnauer finished her speech by warning that experts "have detected a bug that is worse than Melissa".

The next government will have to have technology issues uppermost in mind.

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