Calif. Inaugurates Digital Signatures

Yesterday California officially authorized Verisign Inc. to begin issuing digital signature certificates to secure communications between state agencies and between the state and its citizens, ushering in a new era of electronic services delivery.

Bill Jones, California's secretary of state, marked the occasion by digitally "signing" the authorization certificate for the company, making it the first such transaction since the state passed a law that spelled out the requirements for legally binding digital signatures.

"We're bringing in the private sector to help us to create the opportunity for the public to access [government] services more quickly," Jones said. "Our goal is to deliver something that's easily accessible but doesn't add to the layers of government."

Digital signatures are seen as a vital component of Internet-based commerce because they authenticate the identities of the parties involved in a transaction. Verisign, based in Mountain View, Calif., was the first to satisfy California's digital signature requirements.

Jones said his department is interested in using digital signatures to enable residents to cast votes over the Internet. Other agencies have expressed a desire to use the tool to secure business filings and similar transactions, he said.

Stratton Sclavos, Verisign's president and chief executive officer, said that for all the Internet has done to change the commerce landscape domestically and abroad, so far it has missed the "citizen-government relationship." He added that digital signature certification and the host of services it affects will exact a "fundamental change in the way citizens are going to interact with [state and local] government."

Verisign is working on similar digital signature projects in Oregon, New Jersey, Utah and Washington, Sclavos said.

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