Public key services gain support as e-comm edges ahead

The US Commerce Department's National Technical Information Service has begun a search for a joint venture partner to begin offering public-key services to government agencies much in the same way it offers World Wide Web services through FedWorld.

NTIS last month requested proposals for partners that could issue and manage certificates containing digital signatures, could provide directory services, could offer technical assistance in the development of polices for those services and could market the services on behalf of NTIS' numerous agency customers.

Federal agency customers of FedWorld, a Web site that offers access to more than a dozen government Web pages and bulletin boards, have identified public-key technology as key to accomplishing their missions, said Keren Cummins, FedWorld director.

Public-key infrastructure (PKI) products use digital signature and encryption techniques to authenticate a user's identity and to ensure data is not tampered with during transmission. Many security experts believe this advanced technology is essential to secure electronic commerce and other electronic interactions with the public.

Meanwhile, the European commission is about to propose legislation for the establishment of a legal framework for electronic signatures, according to commission officials speaking in Europe last week.

The proposal is said to be focused on ensuring the identity (authenticity) of the partners in an electronic transaction through a voluntary system of certification aimed at building trust in electronic commerce. The legislation ensures that all types of electronic signatures are recognised as legal across the 15 member states. The commission hopes that the proposal will win formal approval by the 15 member states within 18 months.

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