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Update on E-Communications Act

The Electronic Communications Bill received Royal Assent on 25th May, as expected, and is now officially in force as an Act of Parliament. However, only limited parts of the Act will take effect immediately.31 May 2000

The sections relating to electronic signatures and related certificates and telecommunications licences will not be brought into force for a period of two months. They will then be brought into force by a statutory instrument.

The first part of the Act, dealing with the arrangements for registering providers of cryptography support services, such as electronic signature services and confidentiality services, will only come into force if the government decides it is necessary at some point over the next five years. If the power to set this up is not exercised over the next five years, the government loses this power.

The Act does however allow government Ministers to immediately begin updating other legislation to allow use of electronic communication. The Cabinet Office recently identified some of its priorities for use of this power:-

Authorising companies to communicate their Annual Report and Accounts to shareholders electronically, accept nominations for proxies and be incorporated;

Allowing electronic conveyancing, which, the government believes, could reduce the time needed to buy a house from months to a couple of weeks;

Allowing electronic authentication of public records for court proceedings;

Supporting the Financial Services Authority’s intention to accept applications by electronic means and to allow for electronic communication of certain notices under the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

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