UK Law – European Commission appoints DLA Piper to improve European e-commerce legislation

Brussels – DLA Piper’s Belgian office has been selected by the European Commission to undertake a study reviewing the European legal framework for online services, to assess its gaps, future readiness and implementation hurdles. The study will examine all legal areas that deal with online services, including data protection, service provider liability, electronic payments, consumer protection, digital copyright and child safety.

“Although the legal framework on e-commerce is still quite young, its inability to cope with new technologies and emerging business models has already become clear”, says Prof. Dr. Patrick Van Eecke, who heads the DLA Piper Brussels e-commerce team. “Combined with the issue of diverging legislation across EU member states, we see that companies that want to do business online face increasingly complex legal questions, in spite of legislation that tries to harmonise legal rules and provide more certainty. We are therefore pleased to assist the European Commission in finding solutions to support Europe’s growing digital economy. This new assignment confirms the strength of our e-commerce expertise.”

The study’s primary aim is to tackle all problem areas for business and consumers in the online world. One area concerns the liability of online service providers. “Although EU legislation exempts some online service providers from liability caused by end-users, the scope and interpretation of this exemption is very narrow and vague. As a result, case law differs enormously across countries. There are numerous examples of contradicting rulings. These conflicts arise despite harmonisation being a key goal for EU ecommerce legislation”, says Maarten Truyens, lawyer in DLA Piper’s Belgian technology practice.
Another area that will be focused on, is the protection of privacy and data protection. Businesses find it increasingly difficult to reconcile new business models with the very strict requirements of EU data protection law. “EU data protection laws were drafted at a time when internet transactions were virtually non-existing. These rules are focused on the centralised processing of a few bits of data by one or maybe two parties, in a very controlled fashion. Today, however, data streams are exchanged by parties across the globe in a highly decentralised way.” says Van Eecke.

The study will come up with recommendations on how these rules should be changed, while simultaneously increasing consumer expectations about privacy protection.

The study will be conducted over the course of 2009, with the assistance of internationally renowned experts, including Lawrence Lessig, professor of Law at Stanford University, and Ian Walden, professor information and communications law, Queen Mary University of London. The results will be presented in a report to the European Commission, and will pave the way for the review of the E-commerce Directive, expected to be launched in October 2009.

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