An indication that Hong Kong is beginning to embrace electronic commerce is the increasing enthusiasm for use of digital identification certificates. These certificates, known as 'e-Certs', allow Internet users to prove their identity and enter into agreements with security on open communications networks. Hongkong Post became the SAR's first public certification authority in January last year, and facilitated online activities in banking, stock-trading, education, entertainment and government services. The $60 million public key infrastructure (PKI), developed by Hewlett-Packard, allows Hongkong Post to act as an independent trusted party in issuing e-Certs, which are the equivalent of identity cards in the online world. Issued to individuals and organisations, e-Certs authenticate a person's identity and verify that message contents have not been altered during transmission. Users may choose to have their communication protected by encryption - which changes a message into an incomprehensible form by an electronic 'key'. Each user of the PKI has a 'private key' in the possession of the user, and a 'public key' in a directory maintained by Hong-kong Post for verification purposes. The PKI provides a 'digital signature' of a user which has the same legal status as a signature on paper. This was made possible following enactment of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance in January last year. According to Michael Chung Man-kit, senior manager at the electronic services division of Hongkong Post e-Cert, each e-Cert is valid for a year, 'and its user is given maximum protection of $1 million by Hongkong Post'. Hongkong Post co-launched a secure electronic mail service with Pacific Century CyberWorks in May last year, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club has introduced the security system into its Internet betting service. Mr Chung said Hongkong Post had signed agreements with Dah Sing Bank, Hong Kong Chinese Bank and Bank of East Asia to offer secure online banking services and Visa International had signed a memorandum of understanding in May for embedding e-Cert into the company's planned multi-application 'smart' credit cards.