Stakeholders in the ICT sector have observed that there is need for cyber laws for EAC member states to operate effectively. All the states currently do not have laws on e-commerce. Stakeholders in the sector late year held two workshops, one in November and the other in December, to deliberate on how to fast-track the development of a legislative framework to overcome the challenges.

The meetings drew participants from the AG chambers, the EU, UNECA, UNDP, Government IT Services (GITS), the e-government secretariat and Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet).

The workshop discussed legal instruments on e-transactions in the context of regional instruments that are emerging under the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

However, EAC has recognised cyber laws (which include legislation on e-transactions) as key cross cutting issues that need to be in place for the successful implementation of e-commerce and e-government in East Africa. Despite the lack of regional legal instruments, there have been areas of co-operation among the states in e-transactions.

An example is the fact that the East African community have proposed guidelines for licensing and regulating transactions in money products and schemes in East Africa. There are also model laws on electronic transactions that have been developed by institutions to which the EAC and COMESA member states subscribe.

These include the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model laws for e-commerce transactions such as the UNCITRAL model, the e-signature law (2001), the UNCITRAL model e-commerce law (1996) and the UNCITRAL electronic contracting preliminary draft convention (2003).

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) also has laws on digital copyright and trademark issues involving domain names.

Others are Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN's) Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) and has also helped to solve thousands of domain name disputes.

Other model laws to which the EAC and COMESA subscribe to are the United Nations Model Law on Electronic Transactions, and the Commonwealth Model Law on Electronic Commerce.

The workshop recommends that EAC and COMESA member countries use the model laws as a basis for creating their regional and national laws in e-transactions.

However, the report says that despite the formulation of these instruments, experience from other regions such as the European Union (EU) shows that there are certain grey areas which the laws will need to address.

Among the issues which need to be cleared by the laws include are; the establishment of jurisdiction of states and other related regulatory agencies to govern electronic transactions; the establishment of taxation mechanisms for electronic transactions, and how to handle the liability of intermediaries in e-commerce and other e-transactions like the Internet service providers (ISPs).

Other issues include how the law can protect the privacy of individuals and institutions carrying out electronic transactions, and how the legislation can best govern electronic contracts and the process of contracting.

East African Business Week