Michael S. Baum, an expert in the emerging field of digital commerce law, has joined VeriSign Inc. as vice president of practices and external affairs.

The move indicates that VeriSign, a transaction security developer that got off the ground this year with financial support from Visa International and others, intends to be a thought leader as well as a technology innovator.

A spinoff of RSA Data Security Inc., the influential provider of data encryption systems, VeriSign wants to set the pace in assuring the authenticity and confidentiality of on-line or cyberspace payments. Its techniques - marketed under the Digital ID name - include digital signatures and certificates that can authenticate transactions and assure the confidentiality of participants.

"The company recognizes that providing the services necessary for a trusted certificate infrastructure requires an integration of technology with sound business practices and the legal and control aspects unique to the technology," Mr. Baum said in an interview.

"Technology is only part of the challenge of electronic commerce," said VeriSign president and chief executive officer Stratton D. Sclavos. "VeriSign also wants to lead in establishing the boundaries, policies, and practices under which Digital IDs are issued and used."

Mr. Baum officially joined VeriSign in Redwood City, Calif., on Nov. 2, but last week he was calling in from Paris, where an electronic commerce law committee of the International Chamber of Commerce was meeting. Mr. Baum is chairman of that exploratory panel, formally labeled a working party, which is one of numerous activities and affiliations that arose out of his consulting practice, Independent Monitoring in Cambridge, Mass.

Electronic commerce and its manifold technical and legal implications are just coming to the attention of many business managers and bankers. But Mr. Baum already has eight years under his belt with the consulting firm. Before that he gained Internet and network analysis experience with Bolt Beranek & Newman, on top of a law degree and an MBA in technology management from the Wharton School. He wrote some of the earliest American articles on electronic data interchange law and electronic contracting.

In the public policy realm, in addition to his International Chamber of Commerce chairmanship, Mr. Baum is a delegate to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law and chairman of the legal and business controls work group of the American National Standards Institute X12 committee.

Mr. Baum is also chairman of the information security committee of the American Bar Association's science and technology section, which has drafted a detailed and potentially influential set of digital signature guidelines for public comment. He has been as keen as anyone to observe and learn from Utah's Digital Signature Act of 1995, the first to regulate electronic certificate authorities - he has proposed the notion of "CyberNotaries" - and a similar law later enacted in California.

Among his other writings is a U.S. government publication on "certificate-based public key and digital signatures" that the U.S. Department of Commerce has billed as "a must for all data highway planners and users."

Mr. Baum, 42, said he is still feeling his way through the requirements of his new job, including decisions on how much support staff he will need to contribute to VeriSign's plan of "quick but controlled growth." But he fully expects to remain active in policy forums and assert opinion leadership, which he views as closely entwined with VeriSign's mission.

"A reliable and scalable infrastructure for identification security is essential to the growth of electronic commerce," Mr. Baum said. "VeriSign is the only company focused solely on designing and implementing the authentication products and services that will help create a secure environment for the growth of the Internet and global electronic commerce."

"Our field is new and complex, and we believe Michael's experience, reputation, and influence will allow us to excel in establishing authentication practices and standards," said Mr. Sclavos, who joined VeriSign in August after working with leading-edge Silicon Valley players Taligent, Go Corp., and MIPS Technologies.

"Michael's management role puts us in a stronger position to help consumers, industry, and governments make transactions legally binding, safe, and secure."

As CEO, Mr. Sclavos reports to chairman Jim Bidzos, who is also chairman of RSA Data Security.

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