The recent meeting of October 7, 1998 of the OECD Member states ministers on the unresolved issues of electronic commerce (in particular on the legal validity and effects of electronic documents and digital signatures) highlights indirectly the advanced Italian regulation on electronic documents (defined as "the computer-based representation of legally relevant acts, facts or data"). The main provisions of Italian regulation are contained in the Presidential Decree no. 513 of 10 November 1997, centered on digital signatures and their certification, privacy issues and electronic records.

The law entrusts AIPA (the Authority for Information Technology applied to Public Administration) with the task of defining technical standards to be used in all electronic transactions, whilst ensuring an open attitude towards the standards to be used for that end. As an effect, digital signatures may be performed in different ways, not only with the "asymmetric keys" method, but also with the use of "biometric keys".

AIPA is in the process of issuing the first technical regulation and defining under which standards electronic documents may be considered equivalent to traditional ones. Prior to 1999, the regulatory framework should be completed and electronic documents should constitute a perfect means of commercial transaction.

The Decree sets a complete set of rules for the "creation, storage and transmission of documents by means of computer-based or telematic systems". The Government wishes to encourage all subjects (public entities, private business, consumers) in the use of new technologies, also in order to ease and facilitate public administration procedures.

As an effect of the new regulation, the impact of electronic commerce on the validity of day-by-day transactions should gradually develop from the simple electronic transmission of data to the public administration or business partners (with legalized digital signature of the sender) to the automated processing and storage of electronic documents with full legal value.

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