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Global e-commerce initiatives to advance transactions

Network World Fusion

LONDON (IDG) -- The United Nations and a coalition of mobile phone companies are working on separate initiatives that together will move e-commerce forward.

Later this month, the United Nations will hear arguments for adopting a model law on electronic signatures that, if passed, could then be adopted by countries and states around the world by mid-2001.

Also, Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Siemens are working on a protocol that will let users conduct secure transactions from their mobile phones.

Both announcements were made at the World E-commerce Forum here in London, a conference that brings together international government officials and large corporations to work on e-commerce efforts.

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The U.N. draft for electronic signatures sets out guidelines for what is considered an electronic signature and how it can be given the same weight as a handwritten signature, according to Gerold Herrmann, secretary of the U.N. Committee for International Trade Law.

The draft claims that an electronic signature "may be used to identify the signatory in relation to the data message and indicate the signatory's approval of the information contained in the message."

Herrmann says the United Nations was careful not to limit the law to merely digital signatures so that cryptographic and biometric methods could be included, such as private key encryption and fingerprinting. "Germany moved too fast in the adoption of digital signatures and has limited the effect of their laws," he says.

The model law is meant to complement the U.N. Model Law on Electronic Commerce, which has helped 14 countries adopt laws surrounding e-commerce, he says. The previous model law did not address electronic signatures so countries have been hamstrung by historical statutes requiring handwritten signatures.

Simultaneously, Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Siemens are pushing forward with their Mobile Electronic Transactions (MeT) effort. The group hopes that it will be able to deliver a method for securing commerce over mobile devices by early next year, according to Osten Franberg, director of technology at Ericsson.

MeT builds on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and Bluetooth protocols to provide the security framework for transactions. However, it separates the user experience into three distinct levels: remote, local and personal. At each level, MeT technology will alert the user about their guaranteed security levels, Franberg says.

From a remote point, MeT users WAP to guarantee minimal security. However, the security level increases, the closer to the local network a user gets. For instance, if a user is within his office, he can gain highly secure access, using Bluetooth, to the local network or even his own PC. The only requirement for the user would be that the local server or PC have a MeT/Bluetooth receiver embedded in it. Another benefit of the secure environment is that users will be able to use the local server to make voice calls over the network, saving on airtime charges.

For their part, users would have a MeT-enabled chip in their phone with a corresponding PIN code. To access the secure transaction functions on their phones, users will have to enter the PIN code. He says this offers a similar level of security as an ATM card.

MeT offers the legal aspects that have been missing from mobile commerce because the secure environment acts as a digital signature. When a user signs on with the PIN, they are, in effect, offering their signature.

Franberg says European banks are testing the service.

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Mobile Electronic Transactions group

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