The UK government says a new online form that enables people to register themselves as self-employed over the internet, could herald the beginning of the end of conventional form filling. The Government yesterday launched a pilot scheme in the Luton area of England that will enable the self-employed to electronically fill in a form and electronically sign it. At the moment the form can only be sent with a digital signature from six branches of the National Westminster Bank, but the Government hopes to see the system available generally, and accessible from home personal computers towards the end of next year. Services outfit Electronic Data Systems Corp and software giant Microsoft Corp have teamed up with the Government and NatWest to get the scheme off the ground. EDS has linked together three government departments – the Inland Revenue, Contributions Agency and Customs and Excise – all of which have to be informed of self employment registration. The user will fill in just one form, instead of a minimum of four, before using smart card technology to enable an electronic signature. When the user wants to sign the form, they do so via a smart card, the technology for which has been provided by Microsoft and the authentication from NatWest, which is acting as the third party. The smart card is based on the MD5 algorithm for hashing, the Public Key Cryptology Standard PCKS and the RSA algorithm. David Clark, the Government’s Minister for Public Service anticipates that the electronic form will greatly reduce the high error rate associated with the conventional hand written forms, the electronic version providing a much simpler path for users to follow. The forms software runs on Windows 95 and operates via Internet Explorer 4.0, with the server being hosted by EDS. This is the first time the UK Government has accepted a digital signature as legal and the government claims the project is the first of its kind in the world. Clark says the project also signals the Government’s move to get closer to the public and is a step in the five year plan outlined by Prime Minister Tony Blair to have a quarter of the Government’s transactions carried out electronically. At the same time as the Government is singing the praises of the new forms system, it has said that it receives some 350,000 forms a year from people seeking self-employment registration, and has recognized that only a small proportion of those people will use the electronic form in the trial, and when it is made generally available, will continue to accept the conventional paper copy.