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Comments on Building Trust and Confidence in e-commerce

A Framework for Electronic Authentication in Canada (September 27, 2000)

Mr. Peter Ferguson
Deputy Director General
Policy Development
Electronic Commerce Task Force
300 Slater Street, Room 2016A
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0C8

Dear Mr. Ferguson,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Building Trust and Confidence in Electronic Commerce: A Framework for Electronic Authentication in Canada. We are pleased that many of the concerns we raised in response to the previous draft of this paper have been acknowledged in the final draft. However, some serious concerns from a consumer perspective remain with the proposed approach.

Throughout the paper, there is an emphasis on balancing consumer interests, such as privacy and protection from additional liability, with allowing market-driven innovation. It must be recognized that certain privacy and consumer protections are fundamental, and cannot be balanced with other considerations. In other words, Canadian consumers do not want, and should not be subject to market-driven innovations that compromise their privacy or other basic interests.

The paper comments that “there is the perception that the use of electronic authentication offers the opportunity to enhance consumer protection to ‘raise the bar’”. We are concerned that our suggestions on consumer protection are being viewed as ‘raising the bar’ when in fact they are merely reflecting the protections consumers have expected and enjoyed until now. The widespread introduction of electronic authentication involves the establishment of new databases, new powerful social actors, new relationships between consumers and corporations, and new consumer responsibilities. Appropriate measures must be introduced if consumers are going to be protected from unprecedented privacy invasions and liabilities that are made possible by the new technology. This is not raising the bar, but keeping the bar at the same level.

We are concerned about consumer protections being a bargaining point in the development of the proposed principles for authentication and certification services. The public does not have any understanding of the principles’ importance, and it is possible that such understanding may not develop until consumers begin to actually use certification services. It is important, therefore, that government strongly represent the public interest as the principles are developed. Most importantly, the government must ensure that representatives of the public are fully involved in the development of the principles. We were concerned to note that the discussion paper suggests a process that includes only government and industry.

Feel free to contact me should you wish to discuss any of these matters further, and please continue to keep us informed of new developments.

Yours sincerely,

Angie Barrados
Researcher

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