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Virtual signatures become a reality

Digital and conventional signatures will both be legal Keystone

Electronic signatures are to have the same legal value as hand-written ones in Switzerland from January 1.

This content was published on December 3, 2004 - 14:05

It will therefore be possible, under certain conditions, to sign contracts for transactions such as online credit loans, with the click of a computer mouse.

People will also be able to sign up electronically for health insurance and apartments. But some official documents, for example wills or property deeds, will still have to be signed by hand.

The move puts Switzerland among the first European countries to recognise e-signatures.

The new law, which was approved by parliament in December last year, specifies exactly how the system will work and its legal validity.

E-commerce

The provisions are compatible with European law and are aimed at contributing to the development of cyber administration and e-commerce, the purchase of goods and services on the internet.

Under the new procedure, digital signatures will be based on an encryption system. The user will have a personal encryption key, which he can use to sign an electronic file.

The receiver will be able to verify the signature with a public key that acts as a kind of user profile.

Opponents of the electronic signature have expressed concerns that the law would not prevent fraudulent use of e-signatures.

But the government has been keen to encourage the use of e-signatures and other electronic services, including online voting.

E-voting has been undergoing trials in Switzerland, in the hope that the Swiss abroad, in particular, would be able to take a more active part in elections.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Electronic signatures will officially be recognised from January 1.

Owners of digital signatures will not be responsible for fraud committed by others, if they can prove they had taken the necessary security measures.

The ordinance on electronic certification services entered into force on May 1, 2000.

Bodies authorised to issue electronic certificates are published on the website of the Swiss Accreditation Service (see below)

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