The Government’s policy is to facilitate electronic commerce. It has also set itself targets for making Government services available electronically: all schools and libraries to be connected to the internet by 2002, with 100% of all government services to be deliverable online by 2005.
The Government has also set a target for 90% of its routine procurement of goods to be done electronically by 2001.
Cryptography is the science of codes and ciphers. This has long been applied by banks and government and is an essential tool for electronic commerce. It can also cover the areas of the basis of an electronic signature.
Encryption is the process of turning normal text into a series of letters and/or numbers which can only be deciphered by someone who has the correct password or key. Encryption is used to prevent others reading confidential, private or commercial data (for example an e-mail sent over the internet or a file stored on floppy disk).
An electronic signature is something associated with an electronic document that performs similar functions to a manual signature. It can be used to give the recipient confirmation that the communication comes from whom it purports to come from (“authenticity”). Another important use of electronic signatures is establishing that the communication has not been tampered with (“integrity”).
Public key cryptography is a form of cryptography that uses two distinct, but related, keys (known as a key pair): one key for “locking” a document, and a separate key for “unlocking” it. These keys are both large numbers with special mathematical properties.
Public key cryptography can be used to provide an electronic signature: the private key (which is only known to its owner) is used as the “lock” to transform the data, by scrambling the information contained in it.
The transformed data is the electronic signature, which can be verified by “unlocking” it with the public key of the person who signed it. Anyone with access to the public key can check the signature, so verifying that it was signed by someone with access to the private key and also verifying that the content of the document had not been changed.
Public key cryptography can also be used to keep a communication secret: in this case the keys are used the other way round. The person sending the message would use the public key of the intended recipient to “lock” the message. Now only the corresponding private key can be used to “unlock” the message. This is what the intended recipient would use to read it. A third party would not be able to read the message without access to the intended recipient’s private key.
Various organizations provide cryptography services, which include certifying the public key of an individual, managing encryption keys and time stamping electronic signatures. There is a need for the public to be able to have confidence that these services are secure and not open to fraud; and for people to be free from unnecessary restrictions in their use of new technology.
The main purpose of the Act is to help build confidence in electronic commerce and the technology underlying it by providing for:
- an approvals scheme for businesses and other organizations providing cryptography services, such as electronic signature services and confidentiality services;
- the legal recognition of electronic signatures and the process under which they are verified, generated or communicated;
- The removal of obstacles in other legislation to the use of electronic communication and storage in place of paper.
The Act also contains provisions to update procedures for modifying telecommunications licenses.
The above is a basic summary of what the act is about and the main purpose for the act.
- Securing Computer Information – Examples of Cryptography Used in Business and Government Applications (brighthub.com)
- Vulnerability in commercial quanto cryptography (scienceblog.com)
- Silanis to Host a Live Webcast On How To Integrated Electronic Signatures with Lending Systems (prweb.com)
- DocuSign Electronic Signature Service Now Available within Form Simplicity Real Estate Forms Service (eon.businesswire.com)
- 1978 Cryptosystem Resists Quantum Cracking (technologyreview.com)