On-Line Bankers Ask Congress for a Hand, but with a Soft Touch

Article excerpt

Eager to boost the fledgling market for on-line financial services, industry leaders are asking Congress to step in-but very lightly.

So far, Congress has taken a wait-and-see approach. But industry experts now say laws making it easier and safer to conduct transactions on the Internet are needed so consumers have the confidence to wire their money around the globe.

"Lack of trust has prevented electronic commerce from taking off," said Laurence G. Walker, president of Certco., a Bankers Trust Co. spinoff developing on-line banking technology.

Speaking at a conference on electronic banking sponsored by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, this month, Mr. Walker and other industry experts urged lawmakers to act in two areas.

First, federal standards are needed for "digital signatures," the codes used in lieu of written signatures for on-line transactions. Second, the Clinton administration's current ban on the export of sophisticated encryption technology must be eliminated.

Without these changes, experts warn, electronic commerce in the United States will lag behind that in other industrial nations and the country will lose its technological edge in financial services.

Lawmakers are beginning to move.

Rep. Mike Castle, who is chairman of the House Banking Committee's monetary policy subcommittee, is planning hearings on the use of digital signatures this summer.

The industry is pressing for federal legislation that would set a uniform standard for digital signatures, preempting state laws. Already, 12 states have laws allowing their use. …