E-Signatures Become Law In Ireland

Just weeks after U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act into law, Irish President Mary McAleese signed a similar bill on Monday for her country.

Ireland’s new law makes electronic signatures as legally binding as handwritten signatures, and promises to jumpstart Irish e-commerce. Using technology similar to that used in the U.S., Irish citizens will be able to use encoded smart cards to complete transactions of all kinds online.

“Ireland has now put in place a clear, flexible and user-friendly piece of e-commerce legislation that will create equivalence of treatment between electronic documents, contracts and signatures and their electronic counterparts under Irish law,” said Irish Enterprise Minister Mary O’Rourke.

The new legislation will also add trust and certainty to the Irish electronic commerce system, O’Rourke said. Following Clinton’s lead, President McAleese used digital technology to sign the bill into law. McAleese used an e-security system developed by Ireland-based Baltimore Technologies.

No Credit Cards

Enactment of Ireland’s Electronic Commerce Bill comes at a time when the percentage of Irish making purchases online still lags behind the online sales percentages of other countries.

In 1999, only 10 percent of Irish Internet users have made online purchases of merchandise, a figure that had not changed in a year, according to Amarach Consulting. The total e-commerce business-to-consumer market in Ireland for 1999 was valued at $38 million (US$). Amarach predicts this will grow to $736 million by 2002.

According to Amarach, the low number of Irish e-commerce shoppers is primarily due to the dearth of local e-commerce Web sites, as well as a low percentage of credit card use among Irish Internet users. According to a report issued this Spring by Amarach, titled “Eir-Commerce 2000,” only a third of Irish Internet users have credit cards.

As for business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce in Ireland, Amarach said 27 percent of Irish businesses will procure goods and services online by 2001, and by 2002 the B2B market will be worth $2.6 billion. Ireland is smaller in size than the U.S. state of North Carolina.

Digital Signatures Big Business

Meanwhile, in the U.S., President Clinton’s signing of electronic signature bill has set off a firestorm of competition to bring digital signature technology to the marketplace.

The new law opens the door to a market that could be worth billions of dollars. In the short run, the companies that expect to see windfalls are the equipment vendors that will be supplying the technology to enable and authenticate e-signatures.

No Need to Send Paper Overnight

However, not all businesses are applauding the new U.S. law. Overnight delivery services such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express are closely monitoring the progress of e-signatures. If the new technology catches on with consumers, overnight services stand to lose a substantial amount of their overnight document delivery business.

“Many of the components of their volume that are paper are going to take some more compelling digital form,” said Robert Hamilton, a former head of FedEx.com. “They have to be more than just passively friendly to this. I think they have to be all over it.”

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