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Digital signatures and the future of documentation

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While the business world has been moving inexorably online ever since the PC appeared, documentation itself has remained paper based for the most part. Paper of course has several major advantages including its longevity and robustness, its legal traditions, and its ability to be signed. But now the reach and speed of the Internet plus the sheer volume of business documentation is creating irresistible demand for entirely electronic documents and processes. Why should you have to wait for a hard copy to arrive by courier when you can get an e-mail instantaneously? And why should you have to re-key faxes, especially when the original almost certainly started out as a soft copy somewhere? Recent digital signature technology and associated legal analysis mean that contracts can be reliably formed online, and that purely electronic evidence can be treated the same as paper, for all legal and accounting purposes. This paper explains how digital signatures are used and online information authenticated, and paints a picture of the future documentation environment, utilising trusted electronic credentials for lawyers, doctors, accountants and so on.

Keywords: Certification; Computer Security; Confidentiality; Data Communications

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 1999


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