A comment on the DTI Consultation Document.
I am responding to the invitation to comment on the DTI Consultation Document entitled Building Confidence in Electronic Commerce.
My fear is that the creation of Certification Authorities and similar organisations (which are all of an experimental character and originate with people having little business experience) may prove to be premature if implemented fully at this stage. Much greater experience of the problems which will arise in practice is desirable.
For the great majority of business transactions the prime requirements are accuracy and truthfulness. There are a host of ways in which misrepresentation of facts can be detected by business people who have a wealth of experience in building up trust and sensing when trust is misplaced.
Technology has no prospect of supplanting the fine- honed instincts developed in business life.
It is preferable and much safer to build on existing business practices than to introduce elaborate new ideas which are untried.
Accordingly, may I suggest a method which provides the solid assurance of trustworthiness required on occasion in business life combined with the speed of verification which is essential in E-Commerce.
The proposal is based on the establishment world-wide of Notary Bureaux who are in secure electronic contact with each other.
Notary Bureaux should be created in every town.
Individuals, Companies and Organizations using the Notary Bureau Service should register with their closest Bureau.
The Bureau will develop close contacts with each registered client and ensure that full and intimate knowledge of the activities of each client is known to the Bureau and that there is a close relationship between the Bureau and the client on a personal basis at all levels including the most senior.
The simplest and incomparably the best method to obtain confirmation of any transaction in which suspicion arises is to make a direct but independent contact between the two parties concerned through an independent agency. This is the function of Notary Bureaux.
Let us suppose that there is a transaction pending between two companies one in Sydney, Australia and the other in Manchester, England and that confirmation is required because of the importance of the transaction or because suspicion of its genuineness has arisen.
Either of the two parties can originate an enquiry via the Notary Bureaux Service.
For example, the company in Sydney can approach the Notary Bureau in Sydney with which it is registered requesting confirmation. The Sydney Bureau would then communicate with the appropriate Notary Bureau in Manchester which would make contact with the Manchester company (including making a personal visit to the Manchester company if required) and would furnish a report on the facts of the matter to the Sydney Bureau. These facts would be relayed to the Sydney company.
Note that the proposal is eminently practical as all the elements of the superstructure necessary already exist.
Existing are Solicitors in every town some of which certainly would be willing to become Notary Bureaux.
Existing is supervision and regulation of Solicitors by the Law Society to ensure the highest standards of conduct.
Existing is rapid means of intercommunication between Notary Bureaux throughout the world via the telephone network and/or the Internet.
Existing is strong encryption to assure the privacy and authenticity of communications between Notary Bureaux.
No legislation would be required to start a Notary Bureau service although doubtless it would need in time to acquire international recognition and regulation at government level.
The availability of an International Notary Bureau service of the type described would be welcome in the business community and would do much to promote and bring confidence to E-Commerce.
Particularly useful would be the fact that where disputes arise (as they will) there would be two trustworthy witnesses available (one from each Bureau concerned) to appear in court to provide testimony to the true state of affairs.
A Notary Bureau service need not compete or conflict with plans for other services such as Certification Agencies.
But the Notary Bureau Service on an international scale would be much the simplest, quickest and least expensive to establish and I submit would become the most respected.
The DTI are asking for alternative proposals. I submit that International Notary Services are worthy of serious consideration.
I emphasize that a Notary Bureau Service would be supplementary to other services and would be available on request and at the discretion of parties involved in commerce of every description -- but would be particularly attractive for E-Commerce.
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Last Revised: April 12 1999