Headlines: August 31st, 2001

The slow take up of digital signatures and the uncoordinated development of digital smart cards are hampering the growth of the digital economy. The e-Envoy, Andrew Pinder, wants to remove these barriers and has set up policy working groups involving major stakeholders to work out a more co-ordinated and strategic approach.Digital signatures extend the concept of written signatures to the electronic world. They can be used to provide authentication, integrity and confidentiality of electronic transactions and they have an important role to play in facilitating the development of electronic commerce. Despite becoming legally admissible in the UK last year, take up has been very slow.

Smart Cards can be standard credit card sized plastic cards with an embedded computer chip. They are one way of making the technology of digital signatures easier to use and more secure. They also have other uses such as handling electronic cash, storing medical data, accessing satellite TV, and paying for bus travel and telephone calls. There are a number of different public and private sector smart card schemes, but there is little co-operation between the providers. The expectation that people will be able to use their cards with different systems is not being met.

The working groups will help the Government develop its policy towards the future of these technologies within the UK. Strategies will be developed with support from The Office of the e-Envoy, Actica Consulting and Logica plc.

Consultation documents will be published in December 2001 and they will be available at www.govtalk.gov.uk <http://www.govtalk.gov.uk>.