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Digital Procedures Will Change Face of the Country

by Garland M Baker on July 23, 2007

Big step is electronic signatures

Expats need to prepare themselves for Costa Rica’s Gobierno Digital and Notaría Digital.

The digital government is slowly but surely taking over tasks that were terribly inefficient. Two examples are the issuing of drivers’ licenses and passports. The Banco de Costa Rica, a key player in Costa Rica’s digital government, has begun taking over both. As of July 1, the bank had given out 10,500 appointments for renewing driver’s licenses and passports.

The transportation ministry estimates there are 400,000 drivers’ licenses and 45,000 passports needing renewal. The Banco de Costa Rica currently has the capability of handling 1,000 appointments per day.

The banking authority’s digital system is running full blast much to the chagrin of those trying to hide money in the country.

The plan to incorporate the digital government into everyone’s lives is in full force. Most expats do not have a clue as to what is happening around them. It is going to get harder to hide in Costa Rica in the future.

The digital notary is on the planning boards too. No, notaries will not turn into something like digital robots making property and other legal transactions. They will still be real people. However, they will have new — and hopefully better — tools.

One of these tools will be digital signatures for use in filing paperwork with the court and Registro Nacional. Today, most lawyers and notaries in Costa Rica do not know what digital signatures are or how they work. The biggest hurdle to put the digital notary program to use could be teaching the notaries to use the system. The system will be a boon to those outside the Central Valley.

Here is how a digital signature works.

A certifying authority assigns a notary a digital identity certificate. This electronic document incorporates a digital signature matching it to an identity. The notary directorate could be using this system today by using one of the trusted digital certificate authorities like VeriSign, GeoTrust, Thawte, Comodo, among others.

They are working on it. Former president Abel Pacheco signed the Ley De Certificados, Firmas Digitales y Documentos Electrónicos, executive decree 8454, into law Aug. 23, 2005. This law covers digital certificates and signatures and states that any worldwide certification authority registered with the country can issue certificates for use here in the digital government, including the court system and the national registry. The Ente Costarricense de Acreditación, the Costa Rican accreditation organization, will be responsible for approving foreign companies offering digital certificates in Costa Rica. The country may even setup its own authority.

By applying the certificate to a computer, the machine creates a key pair, a private and a public key for the notary. Once this process is complete, the professional is part of the digital world and can send digitally signed and encrypted documents to others via e-mail or put them on smartcards or thumb drives.

Digital signatures and encryption is not only for professionals. It is for everyone who wants to protect his or her privacy. Echelon and Carnivore, government systems that can tap into computer e-mails, are snooping into people’s private lives. Google is collecting massive amounts of personally identifiable information on everyone everywhere.

Common everyday people who want privacy can use these digital systems too. Best yet, some of them are free for personal use.

Thawte offers free secure e-mail certificates but its sign-up process is a bit complex for the average Joe or Jane. Comodo offers a very easy system that everyone can use. One click at its Web site returns an e-mail to someone requesting a secure e-mail certificate. Another click on a box in the e-mail that arrives, and a digital certificate is installed on the person’s computer for use to sign and encrypt documents.

There is an old saying in Latin America. Telling someone not to copy something because it is confidential guarantees it will be tomorrow’s news. With a digital signature and encryption one can better control messages and text.

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