NetCom Solutions SA has been hosting a series of corporate breakfasts over the past few months on topics of interest to businesses eager to educate themselves about e-business and e-security issues. The topic at a recent NetCom Solutions breakfast event was e-commerce law, a subject ably handled by Professor Dana van der Merwe of UNISA. eSecure Consulting Editor Dr Maurice McDowell was there.
Says McDowell, "In possible deference to his audience of network and IT specialists, lawyers and technical boffins, van der Merwe handled his more than one hour presentation in a totally interactive fashion which encouraged the participants to share their experiences of doing business over the Internet, their knowledge of 'illegal' activities, and other security concerns.
"The word 'illegal' is deliberately in parentheses as there is no clear certainty yet in South Africa as to what the law considers as unlawful activity. Our law, based as it is on Roman-Dutch principles, is specifically geared to deal with tangible assets which you can see, touch and feel (such as your house, car or PC), and not the fuzzy virtual things which can be transmitted electronically. Professor van der Merwe illustrated this through the example of software piracy. Is the illegal action the downloading of the software in the first place, the actual use of the software, or its physical transfer to another media (a disk) and selling to someone else? In South African law as another example it could be considered that the deliberate wiping of a disk containing intellectual property with a magnet is not a criminal act. The reason is that the disk (the tangible asset) is substantively still intact, even though the magnetic field has irrevocably damaged the intangible property, namely the valuable data files."
"Our government cannot, however, be accused of not treating the problem seriously and a discussion paper addressing some of the pertinent criminal issues was prepared and published in July 1999. Further to this it is expected that a Green Paper for further discussion and input is expected to be published during October. All being well this will be transformed into a White Paper by the second quarter of next year with legislation being enacted by the end of 2001."
Will the law eventually protect the consumer and business against fraud and other criminal activities committed over the Internet? Professor van der Merwe raised the concern that just as we have safe havens for money launderers (and that problem has been around even long before Al Capone) we could soon find such refuges for information technology criminals with extradition laws to the country where the actual criminal act occurred not being in place. Remember that even a seemingly innocuous offence such as generating a new virus can take place anywhere in the world. Have we an extradition treaty with the Pitcairn islanders?
"The consensus of the knowledgeable audience was that with developments in e-commerce taking place so rapidly, the law (in any individual country, never mind internationally) will be unlikely to keep pace. The answer lies in not looking for the law to protect you (if the law protected us personally we would not need car anti-theft devices or electric fences), but for businesses themselves to implement appropriate security. The tools are already available, from anti-virus software to spam filters and digital certificates, and the companies that are going to thrive in the area of e-commerce are those with which the all-important customer has the confidence and peace of mind to interact with. After all would you give your more secure credit card to a street hawker selling fake Rolex watches?"
"For those that need more information on the technology that can be used to totally secure and protect their network I would suggest that they contact NetCom regarding an invite to one of their special breakfast functions," concludes McDowell.
For details contact Estania Bruyns of NetCom Solutions on tel: (011) 267 6206, fax: (011) 267 6299 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org