ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday June 08, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 54

Essential reading for legal eagles of the digital age

Book Facts: “Introduction to Information and Communication Technology Law”, by Sunil Abeyaratne. Reviewed by Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria

Armed with an LLM (Master of Laws) from London University and several other prestigious academic qualifications, attorney-at-law Sunil Abeyaratne, former Secretary of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, is well equipped to write on the legal aspects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

His book “Introduction to Information and Communication Technology Law” comes with endorsements and accolades from the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, a Supreme Court judge and former head of the Law Faculty, Colombo University.

This book is a must-read for judges and all members of the legal profession, whether they practise in the civil or criminal courts. It is also a book for the business community, because the Internet and related technology are now an integral part of most business operations.

The author presenting a copy of the book to Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva

In the past, computers were used largely as word processors, similar to typewriters. But with the Internet, computers have become an essential tool in global and business communications. There are several reasons this book is an important contribution to Sri Lanka’s legal literature.

Firstly, although our laws relating to Contracts are part of Roman-Dutch Law, our laws relating to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are basically governed by English law principles. Our Intellectual Property Act No. 36 of 2003 and relevant legislation, such as the (i) Information and Communication Technology Act No. 27 of 2003; (ii) Electronic Transactions Act No. 29 of 2006; (iii) The Computer Crime Act No. 24 of 2007, and (iv) The Evidence (Special Provisions) Act No. 14 of 1995, are all based on principles of English law. Mr. Abeyratne deals with all the above legislation.

Secondly, this is the first published Sri Lankan textbook on Information and Communication Technology. There have been public seminars and journal articles on ICT, but this is the first time someone has taken the trouble to put the relevant material together in a book.

The 290-page book is well written and very readable. Mr. Abeyratne has done well in presenting a legal text on a technology topic in language that can be easily understood. As someone who has taught at universities (here and overseas), I can say that acquiring knowledge is one thing, but imparting that knowledge in written and spoken language is quite a different and difficult task. Mr. Abeyratne has accomplished this task admirably.

The book has 10 chapters. Chapter 1 is a general introduction, while Chapter 2 gives an overview of the legislation on ICT in Sri Lanka. Chapter 3 deals with Intellectual Property, and covers topics ranging from copyright, patents and trademark rights to computer programmes and databases. Internet users will be familiar with such terms as “caching”, “linking”, “framing”, “spamming”, “junk mail”, “mouse trapping”, “sniffing” and cookies” etc. The book covers all these terms and more, and explains the laws relating to them.

Chapter 4 focuses on Electronic Commerce and Electronic Transactions. Globally, every successful business now resorts to electronic commerce. E-mail has to a large extent replaced the normal post, and even the fax. Traditional postal mail is now referred to as “snail mail”, and has been replaced by “e-mail”, which is instant.

This chapter covers the legal recognition of electronic transactions, electronic documents, electronic and digital signatures and such terms as cryptography and encryption. Reference is made to the Electronic Transactions Act, enacted in 2006, under which any contract (with a few exceptions) can now be created electronically. A notable exception are contracts relating to land (immovable property), which must be notarially executed.

Many business people are not aware of such new legislation as the Electronic Transactions Act No. 19 of 2006 and the Payment and Settlement Systems Act No 28 of 2005. This book covers both. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with telecommunication technology and applicable laws. It ties in international conventions and organisations, such as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its role on the subject of ICT.

Chapter 7 deals with Computer Crime and the Computer Crime Act No. 24 of 2007. This statute provides penalties for several computer-related offences, such as “computer hacking”, “computer cracking” and the unauthorised modification of computer programmes. The Payment Devices Frauds Act of 2007 deals mainly with frauds related to credit cards and similar payment devices.

Chapter 8 deals with the evidential and forensic aspects of ICT. Should and can a court of law accept computer evidence? Such evidence is now accepted in Sri Lanka under amendments to the Evidence Ordinance and under the Electronic Transactions Act of 2006.

Chapter 9 deals with the employer-employee relationship in today’s knowledge environment. Can an employer take action against an employee who misuses the office computer (by accessing “illegal” websites, such as pornography)? Can disciplinary action be taken against an employee who sends out “unauthorised” e-mails, or uses the office computer for private purposes? The author provides answers to all these questions.

In my lectures, I have said that employers should include provisions relating to the use and non-abuse of ICT by employees in the workplace. The 10th and final chapter deals with jurisdiction issues: how to sue, and in which court, for breach of ICT rights, and how to approach the Alternative Settlement of Conflicts in relation to disputes arising from ICT.

I recommend this book to anyone using or interested in ICT. Priced at Rs.1,200, the book is available at the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the Law Library, Colombo 12; the Sri Lanka National Arbitration Centre, Vauxhall Street, Colombo 2; the Institute of Commercial Law Arbitration (ICLP), 63 Carmel Road, Colombo 3; the Sri Lanka Law College, and at all Vijitha Yapa bookshop outlets. The author’s e-mail address is

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