Zions First National Bank got approval Tuesday from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to launch a digital signature authentication subsidiary.

Zions has been preparing for the government's go-ahead by lining up partners to provide key technology for the new business. GlobeSet Inc., a company launched by BT Ventures, a subsidiary of Bankers Trust New York Corp., and Surety Technologies Inc. of Florham Park, N.J., will supply the certificate authority software.

Digital Signature Trust Co., the Zions unit, will initially serve lawyers making electronic filings with the Utah court system. Digital signatures are used to identify people sending electronic messages, and to verify that the communication has not been altered by an outside party.

Under the OCC's ruling, digital signatures are part of the business of banking. That means national banks, with OCC approval, may open similar subsidiaries or conduct digital signature operations within the bank itself. "Banks, which have long played a role as trusted intermediaries in financial transactions, are ideally situated to provide this type of service," Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig said in a statement.

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