Digital history made in Dublin plant

With the phrase, "Now, gentlemen, I believe we're ready for your digital signatures," ponytailed Gateway Computer founder and…

With the phrase, "Now, gentlemen, I believe we're ready for your digital signatures," ponytailed Gateway Computer founder and chief executive, Mr Ted Waitt, inaugurated digital history yesterday afternoon at Gateway's Dublin plant.

Sitting before laptop computers with covers personalised with each man's seal of office, President Clinton and the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, went through the simple process of attaching an electronically generated "signature" - represented by their seal of office - to a joint communique on electronic commerce. The two leaders used security software produced by Dublin company Baltimore Technologies, which has provided security technology for the European Commission, the British National Health Service, and Bank of Ireland. Mr Ahern signed first by running his card through a special reader attached to his laptop and typing in a personal identification number to unlock the card. The microchip embedded in the card was then activated to process the communique using a mathematical code unique to each signator. This then produced the "signature" - actually an encoded mathematical condensation of the communique itself - which caused the seal for each to appear on the document.

Mr Clinton watched the laptop intently and shook his head in apparent amazement as his computer generated, in an on-screen window, sweeping columns of figures - the actual signature.

The document signed, the two men each had a turn at the podium to praise technology and the peace process. The Taoiseach noted the critical importance of American technology companies to the Irish economy and added a strong statement of intent to transform the country into an e-commerce hub.


Noting that economic activity "will move away from countries who fail to embrace this business challenge and towards those who create a supportive climate," he said: "I intend to ensure that Ireland is among the first movers in this area and that there are no shortcomings on the part of our Government in building a favourable environment in which electronic commerce can flourish."

Mr Clinton praised the way in which Ireland has turned itself into a world technology leader. "Ireland, as we see here in [Gateway], is fast becoming a technological capital of Europe. Innovative information companies are literally transforming the way the Irish interact and communicate with other countries," he said.

Gateway, along with companies like Intel, Dell and Digital, "are strengthening Ireland's historic links to the United States and reaching out beyond." The Internet was especially important to creating a more prosperous and less excluding future, he said, observing that the Internet "is going to democratise opportunity in the world in a way that has never been the case in all of human history. And if we are wise and decent about it, we can not only generate more wealth, we can reduce future wars and conflicts."

In a plug for e-commerce, he added: "I think this agreement we have signed today, and the way we have signed it, will not only be helpful in and of themselves, but will stand for what I hope will be the future direction of your economy and America's, the future direction of our relationship, and will open a massive amount of opportunity to ordinary people who never would have had it before."

Karlin Lillington

Karlin Lillington

Karlin Lillington, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about technology