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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Clinton OKs e-signatures
cheque signing
Soon you'll be able to save time and sign it online
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

President Clinton has given final approval to a law giving electronic signatures the same status as ones written with ink.

Digital or electronic signatures are seen as crucial for the expansion of internet-based commerce.

The US law comes a few months after the UK passed the Electronic Communications bill that recognised cyber-signatures.

Together the legislation promises to make it easier to do business over the web by remove some of the uncertainties surrounding digital deals.

The business world has welcomed the US measure as a milestone in the growth of electronic commerce.

Sign on the virtual line

President Clinton approved the bill in Philadelphia, the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed with quill pens more than 200 years ago.

Clinton signs electronically, and with ink
Clinton signs electronically, and with ink
Symbolically, he signed the bill electronically using a smart card encrypted with numbers, before adding his name in the traditional way.

The new bill permits the use of digital signatures, including biometric devices that read fingerprints or eye patterns, in contracts, cheques and documents such as loan applications.

A formidable electronic infrastructure is being created to ensure that digital signatures are not falsified.

Organisations such as the Post Office and companies like BT, Clicksure and IBM are preparing to take on the role of confirming when online documents are signed and who did the signing.

Those businesses keen to trade online are being encouraged to sign up with one of these organisations, known as a Trusted Third Party, and get a key that proves who they are.

'Confidence to trade online'

It will give business the confidence to trade online

Roger Till, e-centre UK
When deals are done online the keys will be checked to ensure they are legitimate and the virtual contract will be cyber-stamped.

"It's one of the areas that's important for the average business needs to understand," said Roger Till, Director of advisory group e-centre UK, "It will give them the confidence to trade online."

E-centre UK is part of the Alliance for Electronic Business that is pushing a a more virtual approach to commerce.

Alliance members include the CBI, the Federation of the Electronics Industry and technology trade body, the Computing and Software Services Association (CSSA).

Luckily for consumers the technology to digitally sign documents is already built into popular internet browsers such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Communicator.

Mr Till said that initially it was planned that the Queen would sign the Electronic Communications Bill with a digital signature.

However these were abandoned when it was realised that an electronic signature was not legal until she had signed the law the old-fashioned way.

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See also:

16 May 00 | Business
E-commerce security boon
07 Dec 99 | Business
Byers has e-signs on web
26 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
UK e-commerce bill unveiled
16 Nov 99 | UK Politics
Regulating the net revolution
24 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
UK e-minister fights for Net trade
22 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
E-hallmark promised for Web trade
19 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
UK to publish e-commerce bill
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