I am pleased to contribute again to this debate. I commenced my contribution on the previous occasion during which brief time I outlined the detail and purpose of the Bill. It is essentially enabling legislation and is the first to deal with electronic commerce, so it will pave the way for the future. I see it as the first in a long line of legislation dealing with electronic commerce.
When I last contributed to this debate, the most topical item in the news regarding the information technology industry was what was called the "Love Bug", which originated somewhere in the Far East and had been sent by e-mail to many computers throughout the world from Asia to Europe to America. It created severe problems and caused some stock exchanges and many financial institutions and organisations to experience severe difficulties. It is a warning for the future regarding the security required when dealing with electronic commerce. We have until now been casual. If people are to regard the computer as a way of doing business, it should be remembered that, in running a shop, office or factory, all the proper measures should be taken for the physical security of their cash, assets and premises and to ensure people cannot gain unauthorised entry to the premises.
People need to take the same approach when dealing with their computer systems. It is important that proper security systems are put in place. We will see more scares along the lines of the "Love Bug" until we realise not just the value of e-commerce but the important measures we must take to ensure it is run in a proper and secure manner. We must bear in mind the security aspect, and that was one of key concerns expressed in a detailed survey conducted by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland and published in its recent report a few weeks ago. The issue of security was the greatest single barrier to the developing of e-commerce and that has been highlighted by many members of the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland. I will return to the details of that survey if I have time to do so.
There will be a greater difficulty regarding the issue of domain names which companies and organisations use, be they dot.ie, dot.com or whatever, and it will require legislation not just on a national but also on a worldwide basis. We will need formal legal conventions between countries regarding domain names to deal with it. There have been many highly publicised incidents of cyber squatting and it has become a fashionable business recently. An international bureau which deals with the registration of domain names voluntarily achieved agreement from some people involved to relinquish their title to domain names for a short period to give the genuine owners the right over a six week period to obtain their domain names for a modest fee and have them formally placed on the worldwide web. I hope many people will avail of that.
However, that will not be sufficient. Let us take the example of the growth of the telephone network in the past three decades. In the beginning, the telephone exchange was in the local post office. We then progressed to larger exchanges and beyond that to international calls. After a while, we had to add extra digits to telephone numbers. Most of us in rural areas had our local code and a four digit number but most areas now have a seven digit phone number. When something similar is replicated through the worldwide web, there will be a continual requirement for changes in domain names and I see that as a source of problems which has not yet been properly addressed by the worldwide information technology community. There will be ongoing difficulties and competition in the registration of domain names, so it is an issue which will have to be addressed.
I would like to see online government develop from this legislation and I am sure it will happen in due course. The Revenue Commissioners have the most sophisticated computers in the country. PAYE and PRSI payments can be made online on a monthly basis by companies to the Revenue Commissioners. P60s and P35s can be dealt with in the same way at the end of the tax year. I understand Revenue will be progressing this year to the point where it will be possible to log, record and pay VAT returns through the online government system.
I would like to see this extended to many more Departments and agencies other than the Revenue Commissioners. The Land Registry has until now been an antiquated operation, although I know legislative proposals are before the House to which I hope we will return in the autumn. I hope when, under that legislation, it is established as a semi-State organisation and removed from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it will initiate an online procedure whereby people will be able, through their home computers, to check directly into the Land Registry office and see their folios, reference numbers and maps instead of having to go through the existing long and protracted procedures.
As regards local authorities, I would like to see a situation whereby people on a housing list can check from their homes where they are on the housing list and the points they have achieved. Above all, people who have lodged planning applications will be able to check from their homes the date the information was received, when the decision is due and they will know the up to date situation. All of this will require a cultural change but we are slowly moving in that direction and we will eventually get there.
The same should apply to health boards. We are all aware of the long waiting lists for procedures in hospitals, appointments with local consultants or ENT or out-patient appointments. A great amount of time and effort, phone calls, letters and correspondence are involved in getting people up to date and time is wasted in the system due to cancelled appointments. If all that could be on-line it would be far more efficient.
That brings us back to this House and the Minister's Department. I would like to see e-business developed through An Post and the local post office network. There is a big issue to be dealt with through the small local post offices. One needs a volume of customers to justify the capital investment in these cases which we must recognise but I believe that if there is e-business to be transacted and they can obtain a licence for the dog, car or whatever, that is that way forward.
I conclude by referring once again to the survey conducted by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland where they are fully supportive of the move towards e-commerce but they highlight the problem of security as a basic concern. This will have to be addressed by the worldwide community in the years ahead.