January 22, 2001, 10:18 AM — UCITA threatens rights of consumers in the new age of electronic commerce
ONE OF THE basic principles of propaganda is that if you repeat something often enough, people will eventually believe the most outrageous canard to be true. Thus it is that the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act's (UCITA's) proponents have adopted "a vote against UCITA is a vote against e-commerce" as their mantra in pushing the proposed law through state legislatures.
The truth is quite the opposite, of course. UCITA poses some grave perils for the future of electronic commerce. Commentators -- ranging from a member of the UCITA drafting committee and a group of state attorneys general to associations representing technical and IT professionals -- have frequently said UCITA will make the Internet a scary place for customers to do business.
Nonetheless, at the recent prelegislative hearings in Virginia, it was clear that proponents of the bill have adopted a strategy of positioning UCITA primarily as an e-commerce bill; and it's a strategy that, so far at least, seems to be working in Virginia. (As feared, the advisory committee considering UCITA for the Virginia Joint Commission on Technology and Science approved the bill to continue along what could be a very fast track toward enactment.) The basic argument offered for the e-commerce benefits of UCITA, as can be seen by a press release issued by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) announcing the Virginia hearings, is that there is a crying need for uniformity across the states in the laws that govern electronic transactions.
"This proposed law [UCITA] will establish rules that govern e-commerce transactions, creating uniformity across the country and facilitating agreements between consumers and businesses," the BSA press release reads. "UCITA will allow small businesses to conduct business in all 50 states without having to research electronic contract laws that may vary from state to state."
One can see how that might sound good to state legislators who have only the vaguest idea of what UCITA is, or, for that matter, what electronic commerce is all about. Sure, a uniform law would be nice if it was one we could all agree was fair to all parties. But how fair is a law that goes about letting businesses arbitrarily dictate and even modify terms that they are allowed to hide from their customers?