COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- The country's largest telecommunications company, TDC, said it signed a contract with a U.S.-based company that will provide digital signatures to Danish citizens.

The announcement comes two weeks after the country's Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation selected TDC to deliver the basic technology for digital signatures to the public sector in Denmark.

TDC officials said the first step toward the deployment of digital signatures was a finalized agreement with the Central Customs and Tax Administration, ToldSkat, on permission to have digital signatures issued via an online ordering service. The next step was then to enter into agreements with public authorities and private companies that can then offer citizens secure digital access.

TDC officials said they have purchased software from Entrust that the Danish government will use to help securely authenticate individuals who want to access government Web portals. In addition to authenticating end users through digital identities, the software also provides an auditable record of transactions through digital signatures.

Through the project, the Danish government will issue each citizen a digital identity to enable the use of digital signatures for transactions with agencies such as Central Customs and the Tax Administration. The goal is to make it simpler for the citizens of Demark to exchange secure digital information with the public authorities via the Internet.

Two problems with jumpstarting digital signature use in the public sector are adoption and cost. Unless both public authorities and private companies adopt the technology quickly, it's difficult to persuade citizens to use digital signatures themselves.

The cost problem of who is to pay for issuing citizens' digital signatures has been solved because the Danish government -- through its agreement with TDC -- has ensured all citizens will get a free digital signature.

"Entrust serves as a key partner with TDC in fulfilling the Danish government's efforts to offer online services for its citizens using enhanced Internet security," said Morten Brogger, senior vice president at TDC.