Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  220. Yet they do have something which is concerning a great many people. Coming back to your papers about the nature of the business you run, you say that you know and understand your audience, "The way in which was built means it accurately measures a) who its users are and b) what these users do on site." Could you say how you do that and do you do it with the permission of the people who come to you?
  (Ms Russell) Yes. We are registered with the Data Protection Registrar, it is called permission marketing. They come into the service and register for the service. If they register for the service they do so on the understanding that we are registered with the Data Protection Registrar and that we do not pass on information to third parties without their permission and they have the option to opt out of that or, as the Act requires, to make a positive choice to have their information passed on.

  221. Leaving aside whether or not people understand they entered into that contract, on balance would you prefer to have the Data Protection Act in existence or would you prefer the total freedom, like in the United States, where there is a great deal of concern about cookies.
  (Ms Russell) From a commercial point of view it would be better to have the same situation as there is in United States, without question. From a personal point of view there is a need for regulation, however, it is essential that that regulation is clear and accessible to businesses. Also the issue about the US is an important one because there are many businesses like ours beginning to operate on a global stage. It is very hard for us to make sure that we are compliant across Europe and across the United States as well. It is very tempting for businesses like ours to potentially relocate to the United States, although it is not something that we have considered, however, I can see why a business might want to do that.

  222. Are you conscious that there is pressure in the United States for change?
  (Ms Russell) Absolutely. There has been a lot of upset over various things that have happened. Double-Click, which is an on-line service company recently acquired—I forget the name of the market research company—where they are able to match up databases and target individual consumers. That is without their knowledge, which a lot of people are unhappy about, and justifiably so.

  223. Miss Ussher, do you want to comment on any of these points?
  (Ms Ussher) I would like to comment on the last point. In the United States, there is not a completely unbridled free market in personal data because there is a self-regulation scheme. No one is suggesting that industry and companies can do whatever they want. There is a scheme that is run by TrustE. I do not know if you are familiar with that. I am sure you are. What has happened in the last couple of weeks is that the European side of TrustE—they expanded into Europe last year—has incorporated the EC guidelines into its kite mark scheme. What they are going to set up is a dual or even a three level scheme where some businesses can just register for the TrustE in Europe, some in the United States and some for both. What they found is that consumers do follow this kite mark and will prefer to trade with web sites that have that seal of approval.

Lord Paul

  224. First of all, may I say that your answers have been very frank and impressive. It is nice to read some frank answers. In your paper you say there should be a political heavyweight in charge of IT. The United Kingdom Government has a Minister of State in charge and a very senior Civil Servant can be required and there is a Commissioner in Europe, is it heavy enough or would you like to see it heavier than that?
  (Ms Russell) Heavier than that. You are referring to Alex Allan and Patricia Hewitt, presumably, and the roles which they play in the United Kingdom Government. With no disrespect to them I think it needs to be placed much higher up the agenda. The perception amongst business, we had a panel debate which consisted of an ex-director of IPC, the head of Certus (which is an organisation of IT directors), David Taylor, and Martin O'Neill, who is a Scottish MP. What was your question, I cannot remember.

  225. Heavyweight.
  (Ms Russell) What came out of that was that they felt that there was a lot of talk and using it for good PR opportunities, talking about the Internet and putting e-commerce high up the agenda and their experience working in industry and also, interestingly, from the MP who was present was there was not any real action and substance behind it. There was high praise for Patricia Hewitt but they felt she did hot have enough heavyweight backing.

  226. Are you really saying there should be a Minister dedicated to this and only this subject?
  (Ms Russell) It should be a Minister in charge of the Internet, e-commerce, IT or something to cover all of that which is of a high status. There should be a powerful person in that role.

  227. Is what you are saying, there should be a Minister in charge of this because it is a subject large enough.
  (Ms Russell) Absolutely.

Baroness O'Cathain

  228. I am very confused because on the one hand you are saying that regulation is the death of the industry and it will strangle it in effect and on the other you are saying there is not a heavyweight enough minister and there ought to be a minister in charge of the Internet. You are also saying there has got to be the Data Protection Act and there are problems in United States. What area would you not like regulated? There are certain areas you definitely think need regulating. Can you just tell us which areas you do not think need regulating that you think we are going to regulate?
  (Ms Russell) I am going on feedback from people that use the service and colleagues and I think it is more to do with a lack of understanding about regulation and how that translates into a business context.

  229. Lack of understanding by who?
  (Ms Russell) By business.

  230. By your colleagues who are using this?
  (Ms Russell) By them and by industry as a whole when it comes to issues like data protection, in particular.

  231. Although your opening statement indicated that you might like a free for all you are not really into that at all. You think that there have to be some parameters, some constraints, do you not?
  (Ms Russell) Absolutely.

  232. Can you just tell me the areas where you think you would like a free for all?
  (Ms Russell) Not off the top of my head, no.

  Lord Bradshaw: We have a Financial Services and Markets Bill before the House at the moment and it is very easy for many people to say "To hell with regulation" and that will get a cheer from lots of people. I think those of us who have to deal with the Bill in the House feel that we are damned if we do and we are damned if we do not and I think it is up to people like yourself who have a much better understanding of e-commerce than we do, because we are of a different generation, if I might put it like that—

  Baroness O'Cathain: Come on!

Lord Bradshaw

  233. Maybe not Baroness O'Cathain, but it is something which many people like yourselves have grown-up with and you are much more used to than we are and you are used to the language. What we do want to know is will you look at the Bill, will you look at yesterday's debate and will you make very clear what you think ought to be done? That is really what I am saying to you.
  (Ms Russell) About the Bill that you are referring to?

  Lord Bradshaw: There is a debate on the Bill which is coming into Committee stage and which we will be called upon to debate and amend if we think it is necessary.

  Baroness O'Cathain: It is not the Financial Services and Markets Bill, it is the E-Communications Bill.

Lord Bradshaw

  234. Will you look at what is proposed and make clear what you think ought to be done about regulation and any other features of the Bill which you would like to see included in it as amendments?
  (Ms Russell) Yes.


  235. We can give you time to reflect on this.
  (Ms Russell) I cannot answer that now. That will obviously take time to do.

  Chairman: We read your paper and then we say "Can you give us examples, please?".

  Lord Bradshaw: It is the Electronic Communications Bill.


  236. If you feel you would like to supplement your paper and put something in writing to us, we would be very happy indeed to hear further from you rather than press it too vigorously now.
  (Ms Russell) Yes.

Lord Woolmar of Leeds

  237. Looking across the nation states of the EU, in which countries do your members feel the non-regulatory regimes are most helpful to the growth of e-commerce and in which states do you think they are least helpful and in both cases could you give specific examples of why? It may be that you are principally focused on the UK, of course.
  (Ms Russell) I can give a broad-brush answer. I cannot give huge amounts of specific detail because I do not have sufficient knowledge of every single Member State. I think certainly the Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden, are leaders in this field. I think the UK is a strong leader as well, tier one, closely followed by Germany and then France, Italy and Spain.


  238. You probably feel we are neglecting you, Ms Ussher. Would you like to make a comment as well?
  (Ms Ussher) Not on that one.

  Chairman: We will come to you later. You are not going to be neglected.

Viscount Brookeborough

  239. My question is to either or both of you. We recently did an inquiry into SMEs and presumably you are talking about your users being SMEs and you are an SME, presumably.
  (Ms Russell) Not all are SMEs.

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