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By Haidee V Eugenio

SAIPAN, Mariana Islands (September 29, 2000 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Citing the Northern Marianas' need to participate in the Digital Age, the Tenorio administration has expressed support for a bill authorizing the use of electronic records and signatures.

In testimony before the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications, the administration provided central principles it deemed necessary to guide the development of House Bill 12-226, which was introduced by Rep. Williams S. Torres.

The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands is joining the U.S. federal government, all 50 states and more than 20 countries that have either enacted or are currently considering legislation addressing issues raised by doing business on the Internet.

Bob Webb, the governor's special assistant for telecommunications, said it is time that Northern Marianas economic planners and elected officials look forward, and devise a new vision that will place it in a position to participate in the Digital Age.

"Legislation dealing with electronic records and signatures is just a prelude to what is needed to transform the Commonwealth into a leading offshore jurisdiction for electronic commerce," said Webb.

Webb said legislation is required to remove the barriers to electronic commerce that legal formalities present, including transactions that are in "writing" and "signed." Removing these barriers to electronic commerce, according to Webb, involves authorizing the use of electronic signatures.

Aside from the issue of legality, the administration also raised the subject of "trust," which is required before business will be willing to rely on electronic messages and enter into commercial transactions, ship products, extend credit, transfer funds, change their position, or otherwise enter into binding legal commitments with significant economic consequences.

Underlying this concern is whether or not - from a legal perspective - the source and integrity of the message can be considered trustworthy, said Webb.

The administration also raised the issue on defining and clarifying the rules that apply to parties engaging in electronic transactions.

Webb said in order to accommodate a bold vision of creating a virtual mega-market for online sales of anything, the government and the private sector must work together to address the major issues involved, including legal, telecommunications infrastructure, public and physical policy, and commercial applications.

"With (HB 12-226), you have begun to address the first component of the legal issue, but there are many more, including laws protecting intellectual property rights, liability for third party content, consumer protection and security of transaction," said Webb.

HB 12-226, otherwise known as the Commonwealth Electronic Records and Signatures Act of 2000, seeks to facilitate and promote electronic commerce and on-line government by clarifying the legal status of electronic records and signatures in the context of writing and signing requirements imposed by law, among others.

It also seeks to permit and encourage the continued expansion of electronic commerce and online government through the operation of free market forces rather than proscriptive legislation.

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