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President signs digital signature bill; technology is nothing new to Notes users

U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, more commonly known as the digital signature bill.

The new law will fully legalize contracts signed over the Internet, using public and private key-encryption technology, primarily featuring XML code, to identify users by unique digital signatures.

Digital signature technology is nothing new to Lotus Notes and Domino users, but Domino product marketing manager Paris Vakili said the government is catching on to what her company has known for some time.

"With a lot of e-commerce activity, it would be good to have a definitive, around the clock ability to secure documents and take advantage of technology that exists today," Vakili said.

Notes and Domino users have had the ability to include digital signatures within documents for over six years.

The technology works like this: A user can add a signature to a document, using the high-level encryption within the Notes/Domino environment.

If the document is sent in or as a mail message, another user can then digitally verify the document's signature by examining the sender's private key information and the electronic trail, or hash, that is sent along with the document.

Unlike other applications, Vakili said the way Notes and Domino are designed, users can utilize digital signature technology at the most basic levels.

"I believe that most applications do provide digital signatures, but again, with Notes and Domino, because our collaborative environment, you could actually take this level of security to the field and section and document level," she said.

The new law has been seen mainly as a boost for e-commerce at a time when many dot-coms are struggling. Domino users will find it beneficial as well.

For instance, if multiple Notes users in varied locations needed to securely sign a database document, not only does the environment allow for it, but the gray area of legality has also been removed.

"If you're creating a workflow application, your database designer would be able to take advantage of this technology and design the workflow application around it," Vakili said.

While viruses are a constant threat, and some speculate the new law does not take virus attacks into consideration, Vakili said Notes users have few reasons to worry.

"Actually, [with] Lotus Notes, because of our integrated security... any virus would not be able to work around the security, in a sense that it would be able to prevent any mail message from being validated," she said.

Mobile security is also of little concern. Mobile devices with the ability to access a regular Domino server can not only submit and receive digital signatures, but also feature the same virus protection.

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