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Electronic Signatures and Certification Authorities (ESCA)

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One of the key issues currently under discussion in the field of e-commerce is that of electronic signatures and certification authorities.  These are technological and administrative frameworks that permit parties to an on-line transaction to obtain legally-satisfactory assurances as to the identity and intent of each other, in a fashion similar to existing frameworks for everyday commercial transactions.  Many of the current standards on electronic authentication, digital signatures, and certificates are based on ITU global telecommunications recommendations, notably ITU-T Recommendation X.509.

As the Internet is inherently global and borderless, an important question is whether electronic signatures will be recognized in all of the countries concerned or affected by a particular transaction.  The global nature of e-commerce raises both substantive issues of applicable law and procedural matters as to cross-border recognition of national certificates.

Already, several countries have adopted legislation on electronic signatures and certification authorities, and the matter is under active consideration in many other nations.  In addition, efforts are already underway at UNCITRAL to develop an international model-law approach to electronic signatures and there are numerous private initiatives aimed at reaching consensus on the general principles that should be applied to electronic signatures in a cross-border environment.

Developments in this area will have a direct and vital impact on the telecommunications community.  As the companies that provide infrastructure services for electronic commerce, telecommunication operators are directly concerned by such issues as standards, the cost to implement processing of electronic signatures and potential liability for failed transactions.  Of particular concern are transactions that cross national borders, and for which different legal approaches or regulations may apply.

Activity Areas


High Level Experts Meeting on Electronic Signatures and Certification Authorities: Issues for Telecommunications (December 9-10, 1999, Geneva)


ITU Resources

Recommendation X.509 (08/97) - Information technology - Open Systems Interconnection - The Directory: Authentication framework

ITU-T Study Group 7


Other Related Resources

Digital Signature Law Survey from Simone van der Hof

ETSI's Electronic Signatures and Infrastructures (EESSI Program)

Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce (GBDe) Authentication and Security Issue Group

Internet Law and Policy Forum

Digital Signature Working Group

Certificate Authorities Working Group

IETF's Public Key Infrastructure (X.509) (pkix) Working Group

OECD Site on Information Security & Privacy


UNICTRAL Electronic Commerce Texts

Documents of Working Group on Electronic Commerce



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Updated : 2011-04-04