Headlines: December 14th, 2000

There’s been a warning that a raft of legal issues stand in the way of a smooth progression towards electronic service delivery.The report which raises the concerns covers local government, but could make useful reading for anyone in the public sector planning electronic service delivery, as the legal hurdles are not unique to that sector.

E-government, Best Value and the Law is published by SOCITM, the grouping of senior ICT managers in local government, and was produced by Eversheds, the legal group.

It details the legal obstacles faced in three main areas. The first concerns the collection and use of information about individuals, covered by the new Human Rights Act, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the forthcoming Freedom of Information Bill.

The second is about intellectual property rights, set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and the third concerns regulatory provisions which have been made or planned in the area of e-Government. These include the Electronic Communications Act 2000; the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000; the EU Distance Selling Directive; the Draft EU e-Commerce Directive; the Human Rights Act 1998; and the Freedom of Information Bill.

The report warns that it will be easy for local authorities to get into potentially expensive legal difficulties unless they take steps to understand these complicated and in some cases still changing provisions.

The local authority, as employer, may for example find itself held liable for employees’ use of the Internet and email to send or receive any materials that infringe intellectual property rights of a third party. Equally, a local authority could be infringing the Human Rights Act if it seeks to monitor the use of personal email at work by council staff.

The report is available to download from www.socitm.gov.uk   or www.eversheds.co.uk .