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November 10, 1998


Intel presents the future of business computing

Ink stinks: The IT Bill proposes to sweep the desk clear for digital documents, certificates and signatures. The Union Cabinet of Ministers will soon consider a proposal to enact a comprehensive information technology law that will bring about sweeping changes in the way governments and businesses operate.

Email this story to a friend. The IT Act promises to open new opportunities for those specialising in certifying digital signatures, investigating digital frauds and settling disputes over electronic records. Obviously, the laws would also enlarge job opportunities for IT professionals.

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Sources in the Department of Electronics have been quoted as saying that a few days ago they circulated a draft cabinet note on the Information Technology Bill, 1998, to the ministries concerned.

The IT Bill comprises a set of three-pronged cyber laws and amendments to over half a dozen existing laws.

DoE has secured the approval of the Standing Committee on Cyber Laws for enactment of just a single legislation.

N Vittal, the Vigilance Commission chairman and a champion of digital technology, heads the 13-member Standing Committee on Cyber Laws.

The IT Bill draws from the Model Law on Electronic Commerce prepared by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in 1996, the US State Laws of Utah and Illinois on Electronics and Digital Signatures and the Electronics Transactions Act enacted by Singapore in June 1998.

The three laws proposed in the IT Bill are the Digital Signatures Act, Data Protection Act and the Computer Offences Prevention Act.

The Standing Committee on Cyber Laws has recommended enactment of these laws in its interim report.

The Prime Minister's Task Force on Information Technology had in its first report in July 1998 recommended enactment of these laws within six months.

The existing laws to be amended as a part of the IT Bill include the Indian Evidence Act, the Indian Penal Code, the General Clauses Act, RBI Act, Bankers Book Evidence Act and Indian Post Office Act.

The IT Bill stresses that information should not be denied legal effect, validity or enforceability only because it is the form of an electronic record.

The Bill says that where a law presents the requirement of writing, an electronic record satisfies that requirement if the information is accessible for later reference.

Similarly, where a law requires a signature, a digital signature should be acceptable, the Bill proposes.

It says that if a prescribed or commercially reasonable security procedure has been applied to an electronic record, it should be treated as a secure electronic record.

If, through the application of a prescribed or commercially reasonable security procedure, it can be established that the electronic signature is:

  • Unique to the person using it;
  • Capable of identifying such a person;
  • Created in a manner or using means under sole control of the person using it; and
  • Linked to the electronic record, to which it relates in a manner such that if the record is changed the electronic signature would be invalidated,

Then such a signature shall be treated as a secure electronic signature.

An electronic record signed with a secure digital signature would be treated as a secure electronic document.

The IT Bill has proposed appointment of certification authorities for the purpose of licensing, certifying, and monitoring digital documents.

The Bill provides for government use of electronic records and signatures. After the enactment of the IT law, a ministry may accept the filing, creation and retention of a document in the form of electronic record and may specify the manner and format in which this is to be done.

The Bill suggests that unless otherwise agreed, an acceptance of contract may be expressed by electronic means of communication.

Where an electronic record is used in the formation of a contract, that contract should not be denied validity or enforceability on the sole ground that an electronic record was used for that purpose, the draft legislation proposes.

The Bill also lays out rules for acknowledgement of receipt and the time and places of despatch.

The basic objective of the IT Bill is to facilitate electronic communication by means of reliable electronic records.

It also seeks to eliminate barriers to electronic commerce resulting from uncertainties over writing and signature requirements.

The Bill tries to promote development of legal and business infrastructure necessary to implement secure electronic commerce.

Another objective is to facilitate electronic filing of documents with government agencies and statutory corporations and to promote efficient delivery of government services by reliable electronic records.

The Bill would also contain provisions to minimise incidence of forged electronic records, intentional and unintentional alternation of records and frauds in electronic commerce and other such transactions.

DoE sources say that the Information Technology Bill is designed to promote public confidence in the integrity and reliability of electronic records and electronic commerce and foster development of electronic commerce.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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