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Abstract

To untangle some of the issues involved in the current digital signature/encryption technology debate, this article will first discuss the relevant technologies and their applications in the online environment. This discussion will demonstrate that while digital signature technology utilizes encryption as part of its process, in most instances, its primary purpose is not the confidentiality of a particular Internet transmission, but the ability to authenticate and verify the participants in an online communication. This article will further explore the competing interests involved in the encryption/digital signature debate by analyzing recent case authority and administrative policies that address the government's ability to regulate encryption, as well as the potential impact on national security if the current encryption export controls are relaxed or removed. Then, current efforts to draft and implement digital signature laws will be examined to demonstrate how potential threats to national security are negligible when dealing with digital signatures in the global Internet economy. Finally, this article will argue that congressional debate and legislation in the areas of digital signatures and encryption can and should draw a distinction between encryption used primarily for purposes of confidentiality and encryption used as part of the digital signature authentication and verification process. Such separate consideration will allow a clearer understanding of the benign nature and purposes of digital signature technology, and will likely serve as a springboard for enacting uniform federal legislation in the area of digital signatures.

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