Digital signature to reach end-users in 2001

  • 2000-12-21
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Two significant laws whose effect will be long-lasting - the Law on Digital Signature and the Telecommunications Act - have just become operative in Estonia.

The Law on Digital Signature, in force from Dec. 15, has been seen by many IT specialists as a strong tool for the further development of e-commerce. But now it is clear that digital signature will reach end-users only at the end of the next year.

Arne Ansper from Kuberneetika Ltd., an IT company that has consulted the Estonian National Communications Board on digital signature issues, told The Baltic Times that at first interested companies should register at the Board. This takes some time, he said, but without the Board's authorization the signature would be invalid.

"One of the first fields to experience digital signature is accounting," said Ansper.

"Digital signature is a way of personal identification online, equal to a regular written signature," said Aivar Vadi, an expert from the IT company Kungla Dialoog. Banks, state institutions and telecommunications companies are those most interested in launching the system in Estonia, according to Vadi.

"Many computer programs already support digital signing. It is the PKI [public key infrastructure] that needs to be developed in Estonia," Vadi said. PKI is also necessary for personal ID cards.

A digital signature registered at the licensed provider company would look like a string of symbols that a user would enter in Web sites or e-mails to identify himself.

Estonia's minister of transport and communications, Toivo Jurgenson, said that the new type of autograph, unfortunately, would not put an end to all bureaucratic procedures at once.

But government structures, above all the Communications Board, will apparently be among the digital signature pioneers.

"The government has to develop and approve the rules for using the signature by March 1, 2001, to allow official organizations to shift from paper to digital record-keeping from June 1, 2001," said Jurgenson.

The minister added that some laws might have to be changed in order to fully implement digital signature.

Mait Heidelberg, vice-chancellor at the Transport and Communications Ministry, explained how the innovation would ease lives of people from all walks of life.

"We all know Internet banking is booming. But to get a bank account a person should still go to the bank, fill in some papers and, of course, sign them. Digital signature would stop people having to do that," said Heidelberg.

Heidelberg also commented that the ultimate use of digital personal signing would be available only after the implementation of electronic ID cards, which is being planned over the next two years.