Post Office to offer'digital signatures'

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The Independent Online

The Post Office is poised to a sign a deal with an internet security company to allow transactions that usually require a handwritten signature to take place over the Web. Verisign, the US software giant, is thought to be the likely partner.

The Post Office is poised to a sign a deal with an internet security company to allow transactions that usually require a handwritten signature to take place over the Web. Verisign, the US software giant, is thought to be the likely partner.

Insiders this weekend said the Post Office is in the final stages of negotiation over the deal, and aimed to launch a system this autumn that will provide a "digital signature" for customers. The digital signaturewill have the same function and legal force as an autograph.

"People all over the world will be able to make serious transactions in a matter of minutes, with a high degree of certainty that the person they are dealing with is who they say they are," said a person familiar with the talks. The Department of Trade and Industry's Electronic Communications Act propelled digital signatures into law in May, initiating a race between major financial institutions to develop a signatures system. A Post Office spokesman said: "We are in the vanguard and will definitely be offering a service for the general public."

The Post Office already offers a discreet online verification service for business-to-business customers. However, it is likely to face stiff competition from banks, which would be able to accelerate their online operations by rolling out secure signatures. Seven of the clearing banks, including HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland, have formed a consortium called the electronic commerce protection scheme to develop an alternative system.

The Consumer Credit Act and other legislation dating back to the beginning of the century, such as the Land Registry Act, blocks the completion of many types of purchase, such as house buying, over the internet.

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