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London, January 30, 1999

 

 

U.S.-U.K. JOINT STATEMENT ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE

 

Electronic commerce will be an engine of economic growth in the Twenty-first Century, with the potential to invigorate economies by enhancing productivity, streamlining distribution, facilitating trade and revamping corporate structures.  The United Kingdom and the United States have already taken steps domestically to realize the full potential of electronic commerce.

 

Electronic commerce will enhance the standard of living of citizens in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as the rest of the globe, by creating new, high-paying jobs and opportunities. Small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, will benefit from new opportunities to sell their products to a worldwide market.

 

The Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom recognize the importance of working together, in the context of the EU-U.S. Joint Statement of 1997 to promote global electronic commerce and of the G7/G8 Denver Summit Communique.  We support and endorse the following fundamental principles and policies, which should guide the development of electronic commerce.

 

 

I. General Principles

 

The private sector should lead in the development of electronic commerce and in establishing business practices.

 

Governments should ensure that business enjoys a clear, consistent and predictable legal environment to enable it to do so, while avoiding unnecessary regulations or restrictions on electronic commerce.

 

Governments should encourage the private sector to meet public interest goals through codes of conduct, model contracts, guidelines, and enforcement mechanisms developed by the private sector.

 

Government actions, when needed, should be transparent, minimal, non-discriminatory, and predictable to the private sector.

 

Cooperation among all countries, from all regions of the world and all levels of development, will assist in the construction of a seamless environment for electronic commerce.

 

II. Policy Issues

 

Tariffs

 

Both governments agree on the strong desirability of continuing the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.

 

Taxes

 

Any taxation of electronic commerce should be clear, consistent, neutral and non-discriminatory.  We will actively participate within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and work toward achieving the application of the framework principles for the taxation of electronic commerce agreed by member countries at the Ministerial conference at Ottawa in October 1998.  Close cooperation and mutual assistance between the United Kingdom and the United States tax authorities is necessary to ensure effective tax administration and to prevent tax evasion and avoidance.

 

Electronic Authentication/ Electronic Signatures

 

Governments should work towards a global approach that supports, domestically and internationally, the recognition and enforcement of electronic transactions and electronic authentication methods (including electronic signatures).  At an international level this should include working together to promote confidence in the legal enforceability of cross-border transactions and  to support a variety of authentication technologies and implementation models.  This approach should:

 

a.  Remove paper-based obstacles to electronic transactions by adopting relevant provisions from the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce;

 

b.  Permit transacting parties to select appropriate mechanisms which meet their needs for authentication in conducting electronic commerce, including particular authentication technologies, contractual arrangements and other means of validating electronic transactions, and to use judicial and other means of dispute resolution to prove the validity of those transactions;

 

c.  Permit parties to a transaction to have the opportunity to prove in court that their authentication technique and transaction are valid; and,

 

d.  Take a non-discriminatory approach to electronic signatures and authentication methods from other countries.

 

Privacy

 

There must be effective means of protecting the privacy of individuals' personal information .  It is vital that these do not inhibit the development of electronic commerce or impede the free flow of information.  Effective privacy protection can be achieved by private sector development, implementation and enforcement of privacy policies, including preparing guidelines and developing verification and recourse methodologies; the application of existing legal frameworks to the online environment, or by a combination of both,  as appropriate.  The OECD Privacy Guidelines provide an appropriate basis for policy development.

 

The Social and Regional Challenge

 

As we enter the Information Age, we must ensure that new technologies will widen the circle of opportunity. Some people are concerned that our societies will be polarized between information "haves" and "have-nots."

 

To avoid the creation of a "digital divide" on a social, cultural or geographic basis, we should promote universal technological literacy and make information technology widely available at public institutions such as schools, libraries, and community centers. Governments also have an important role to play in ensuring universal access to telecommunications services, particularly for low-income and rural consumers.

 

Developing countries must be able to participate fully in the information society. Advanced communications networks can contribute to their integration in the global economy and facilitate the dissemination of knowledge and technologies to their citizens and their companies.

 

Governments should also continue to promote competition in all information and communications markets since this results in lower prices, more customer choice, and faster deployment of new technologies.

 

We encourage developing countries to open their markets to private sector investments to help modernize their communications infrastructure. The United Kingdom and the United States are ready to advance international cooperation to achieve this goal and to avail themselves of international organizations and financial institutions to further this goal.

 

Open Access to Information, Cultural Diversity, and Content

 

The Internet provides unprecedented access to information. For the first time, a means of communication enables an individual to select what he or she wishes to view from among millions of pages of information posted on hundreds of thousands of web sites all around the world.  Content that reflects the cultural and linguistic interests of any group can be produced cheaply and transmitted to others with similar interests.  This information is posted in many countries and in many languages.  Governments should promote access to this information.

 

In instances where users do not wish to receive certain types of content, such as that which is unsuitable for children, filtering systems or other tools should be made available so that the individual consumer can exercise his or her choice.

 

We encourage international cooperation between law enforcement authorities to prevent, investigate and prosecute illegal activities on the Internet by criminal and terrorist organizations.

 

Government Services and Information

 

Electronic commerce enables governments to provide services to their citizens, and to make their own purchases, in a more effective and efficient manner.  Governments can also contribute to the development of the information economy by acting as role models and market catalysts.  Business and user confidence will be enhanced by effective government use of electronic procurement and payments systems.  The United Kingdom and the United States will cooperate in developing innovative methods for the provision of government services through the use of electronic commerce.

 

Information Security

 

Effective information security, including the security of transactions and payments, is essential for the development of electronic commerce, and should be implemented in a manner consistent with business needs and public safety.  We will continue to work together on the international and other aspects of this issue, as outlined in the G7/G8 Denver Communique in relation to cryptography policy.

 

Information infrastructures are critical to public safety and national economic well-being. The OECD Guidelines for the Security of Information Systems should be the basis for national approaches to information security.  Governments should provide advice on threats, vulnerabilities, and appropriate security responses to ensure that critical information infrastructures are protected.  The preferred approach is for governments to encourage the awareness, and take-up, of industry-led best practice approaches on information security management.

 

Electronic Payments

 

Developments in this area should recognize the importance of private sector leadership, and should promote both a competitive market for, and user confidence in electronic payment systems.

 

Intellectual Property Rights

 

Growth of electronic commerce depends on the adequate protection of intellectual property rights including industrial property rights and copyright.  The protection of copyright will be assisted by the prompt signing, ratification, and implementation of the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

 

Year 2000

 

Remediation of the Year 2000 computer data base problem is a matter of critical importance to both countries and international communities.  The United States and the United Kingdom will work to share their own experiences regarding key government services by the year 2000.  In addition, the United States and the United Kingdom will work together and with private sector organizations to stimulate Y2K readiness in key infrastructure industries and in small- and medium-sized enterprises. 

 

Consumer Protection

 

Consumers should receive effective protection in the online environment that can be promoted through enforcement of existing consumer protection laws, modification of these laws if necessary to accommodate the unique characteristics of the online environment, consumer education, and industry supported mechanisms to empower consumers and resolve consumer complaints and concerns. 

 

III. Future Work

 

The UK within the EU and the United States will continue to work together to support the development of global electronic commerce in the future, through:

 

Close policy consultation between the United States and the United Kingdom to promote electronic commerce;

 

Continuing substantive bilateral discussions at the experts level on issues regarding electronic commerce;

 

Encouraging private sector leadership through dialogue and cooperation between the private sectors of both countries and our governments.