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(506) 223-1327                    Published Monday, July 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 144                 E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Big step is electronic signatures
Digital procedures will change face of the country

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Expats need to prepare themselves for Costa Rica’s Gobierno Digital and Notaría Digital.

The digital government is slowly but surely taking over tasks that were terribly inefficient.   Two examples are the issuing of drivers licenses and passports.  The Banco de Costa Rica, a key player in Costa Rica’s digital government, has begun taking over both.  As of July 1, the bank had given out 10,500 appointments for renewing driver’s licenses and passports.

The transportation ministry estimates there are 400,000 driver’s licenses and 45,000 passports needing renewal.  The Banco de Costa Rica currently has the capability of handling 1,000 appointments per day.

The banking authority’s digital system is running full blast much to the chagrin of those trying to hide money in the country.

The plan to incorporate the digital government into everyone’s lives is in full force.  Most expats do not have a clue as to what is happening around them.  It is going to get harder to hide in Costa Rica in the future.

Digital signature might have helped expat businesswoman
who lost $215,000
to electronic crooks
Story is HERE!

The digital notary is on the planning boards too.   No, notaries will not turn into something like digital robots making property and other legal transactions. They will still be real people.  However, they will have new — and hopefully better — tools.

One of these tools will be digital signatures for use in filing paperwork with the court and Registro Nacional. Today, most lawyers and notaries in Costa Rica do not know what digital signatures are or how they work. The biggest hurdle to put the digital notary program to use could be teaching the notaries to use the system. The system will be a boon to those outside the Central Valley.

Here is how a digital signature works. 

A certifying authority assigns a notary a digital identity certificate.  This electronic document incorporates a digital signature matching it to an identity. The notary directorate could be using this system today by using one of the trusted digital certificate authorities like VeriSign, GeoTrust, Thawte, Comodo, among others. 

They are working on it.  Former president Abel Pacheco signed the Ley De Certificados, Firmas Digitales y Documentos Electrónicos, executive decree 8454, into law Aug. 23, 2005.  This law covers digital certificates and signatures and states that any worldwide certification authority registered with the country can issue certificates for use here in the digital government, including the court system and the national registry.  The Ente Costarricense de Acreditación, the Costa
digital signature graphic
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Rican accreditation organization, will be responsible for approving foreign companies offering digital certificates in Costa Rica.  The country may even setup it own authority.

By applying the certificate to a computer, the machine creates a key pair, a private and a public key for the notary.  Once this process is complete, the professional is part of the digital world and can send digitally signed and encrypted documents to others via e-mail or put them on smartcards or thumb drives.

Digital signatures and encryption is not only for professionals.  It is for everyone who wants to protect his or her privacy.  Echelon and Carnivore, government systems that can tap into computer e-mails, are snooping into people’s private lives.  Google’s is collecting massive amounts of personally identifiable information on everyone everywhere.

Common everyday people who want privacy can use these digital systems too.  Best yet, some of them are free for personal use. 

Thawte offers free secure e-mail certificates but its sign-up process is a bit complex for the average Joe or Jane.  Comodo offers a very easy system that everyone can use.  One click at its Web site returns an e-mail to someone requesting a secure e-mail certificate. Another click on a box in the e-mail that arrives, and a digital certificate is installed on the person’s computer for use to sign and encrypt documents.

There is an old saying in Latin America.  Telling someone not to copy something because it is confidential guarantees it will be tomorrow’s news.  With a digital signature and encryption one can better control messages and text.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at  Copyright 2004-2007, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 144

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Guanacaste celebration
at cultural ministry today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culture ministry will get a head start on celebrating the annexation of Nicoya by holding a fiesta today at the ministry downtown.

The program includes honors to two Guanacaste residents who have added to the quality of life there. In addition, there will be music and dancing from 10:30 a.m. through the afternoon. The public is welcome and admission is free.

Being honored are Félix Amado Grillo Grillo, founder of the Asociación La Específica, Sabaneros y Cocineras Guanacastecos del Siglo Pasado, and Maribel Sánchez Grijalba, who was a driving force behind creating the new museum at San Vicente de Nicoya that was opened in May. San Vicente is known for its artists in clay who create Precolumbian replicas.

The Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes said in a release that the event was important so that those in the metropolitan area could celebrate the traditions of the province of Guanacaste.

The ministry, called the Centro National de la Cultura, is just east of Parque España, which is to the south of the towering Instituto Nacional de Seguros building on Avenida 7 in north San José.

Arias to mark Annexation
with inaugurations in Liberia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday is a big day for Liberia. It is the actual day for the celebration of the Annexation of the Partido de Nicoya, although for this year the official celebration of the day and public holiday will be the following Monday, July 30.

As is traditional, the consejo de gobierno, the president's cabinet, will meet in the province. This year the site is the  Antigua Comandancia, the current Museo Guanacaste in Liberia.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will be at a series of inaugurations after the consejo. First he is scheduled to cut the ribbon at Oficentro Villas Guanacaste. A few minutes later he is supposed to open the Feria Ganadera Expo Liberia 2007, the region's animal fair. An hour later he is to help place the first stone for the proposed Liberia branch of the Universidad National, which has its main campus in Heredia.

Late in the afternoon, still in Liberia, Arias will inaugurate the Puente la Victoria and then the police substation at Barrio INVU.

The day marks the decision in 1824 when the local leaders in Guanacaste voted to merge the territory with Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua. The decision gave Costa Rica more spectacular beaches and the cowboy tradition of Guanacaste.

Mormons give wheelchairs
with government assistance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Area Mormons participated with the government this weekend in handing out 200 wheelchairs to disabled Costa Ricans.

The event was in the Gimnasio Nacional in Parque La Sabana. The value of the wheelchairs is about 70 million colons or some $135,000.

Mariángela Ortiz, director of the Despacho de Apoyo Social del Ministerio of the Presidencia, said that those who received the wheelchairs had been selected from those who had limited resources.

Luis Gerardo Chaverri, who directed the donation by the Mormons, said that a donation of some 250 wheelchairs would be likely at the end of the year, said Casa Presidencial.

Not every helpful stranger
is honest, tourist discovers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman tourist said she made the mistake of accepting a ride with some young Costa Ricans near Jacó over the weekend and ended up on the wrong end of a gun. She characterized herself as  "muy stupido."

The tourist, who had been here about two weeks, said she accepted the ride about 2 p.m. Saturday because she was unsure of where the beach was located. The vehicle contained five young men and a woman. Eventually they drove into a side road and pulled a gun. Her loss was minimal, she said, about $4 some jewelry and a $100 camera. However, she said she had rules she wanted the general public to hear.

"The moral of the story is go no where alone especially off the beaten track," she said. "Stay with a crowd of tourists of any nationality.  You are in the same boat with them.
"No. 2: never never never accept so-called help, rides, money, or anything else from local strangers  there is a myth going around, promulgated i am afraid by the tourism board in Costa Rica  that everyone speaks English and it is relatively safe to travel here. I found both to be totally false."

Another informal report Sunday said that a crook took the luggage of six San José-bound tourists when they stopped in Orotina for food and left the baggage in a small bus. The crook left in a waiting taxi.

Bandits raided Escazú home
while homeowner was away

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man returned to his home Thursday night to find a domestic employee tied up and the home ransacked, according to police.

The home is in San Miguel de Escazú, said the Fuerza Pública.

They said Rodolfo Mesén Obregón returned about 10:10 p.m. to find Xiomara Calderón tied up. She told police that six men broke into the home through the barred front door. It appears the men cut the alarm cables before doing so. They took a computer, 400,000 colons (about $770) and jewelry.

Truck theft ring broken up

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators raided 15 locations and detained 12 persons Friday in a case that involved the looting of at least 18 tractor trailers. Investigators said the individuals involved set up a trucking company and while truckloads of merchandise were in their care they looted them.

Most of the trucks were being shipped out of the country, agents said, so the loss was not discovered until much later.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 144

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BCR's daily $10,000 limit was no barrier
Crooks stole $215,000 electronically from businesswoman

By Arnoldo Cob Mora
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An expat businesswoman lost $215,000 from her Banco de Costa Rica account when someone systematically transfered money to other accounts.

The bank and to some extent law enforcement personnel blame phishing, the method crooks employ to get computer users to give them key passwords. However, the businesswoman denies she has been a victim of such a trick and points out that some of the money transfers were in excess of the Banco de Costa Rica daily limit of $10,000.

In one case, said the woman, the transfer was for $60,000, six times the bank's daily limit.

Banco de Costa Rica has been plagued by Internet crooks using the phishing method of sending out fake Web look-alikes and then tricking bank customers into signing on the fake page with their login name and password.

Bank investigators decline to comment on the case, but José Abel Maleaño Saballos spoke in general terms about Internet security. He is head of the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization. He said Friday that electronic bank customers can lose money in many other ways beside phishing.

Maleaño said that cable companies that offer Internet hookup services frequently have weak security, and employees can break into customer accounts. Computer experts from the outside sometimes break into cable company's data base and get information, he said. Typically, cable companies do not have password information for bank accounts.

The businesswoman said she links to the Internet via the ADSL service provided by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The fraud expert also said that computer techs have been known to implant software into computers. One such piece of software is a key logger that allows a third party to know the sequence of keys that are punched on a computer keyboard. The software can send the information to a third party via an e-mail. Such devices and software are available for sale on the Internet. They have legitimate uses for investigators and for company security.

The businesswoman said she had a technician visit to work on her machine three months ago.

The thefts from the electronic account began in mid-June. So far computer experts from neither the Banco de Costa Rica nor the Judicial Investigating Organization have visited the businesswoman to review the contents of her computer's hard drive.

Bank investigators also will not say how many, if any, other cases like this are being investigated. In March 2006 investigators detained a temporary worker at Banco de 
Banco de Costa Rica signon
AM. Costa Rica graphic
Did the crooks use this Web page sign on?

Costa Rica who was supplying a boyfriend with pin numbers and passwords of electronic customers. But the thefts were low-tech. The woman initially got the information from paper records and by talking with other employees.

The most troubling part about the case of the businesswoman is that transfers were in excess of the $10,000 daily limit. This suggest that someone with high-level access to the bank computer was able to override the security system.

Maleaño said that if the login and password of the businesswoman came from the bank, this would implicate workers in the computer department who have access to that information. However, he said that at this time there is no investigation of these types of acts.

The businesswoman said that the electronic thefts happened 21 times. The crooks took some money and waited for about four days before taking more. Then they waited two days to see if their activities were discovered. In all, they hit the account 21 times, the woman said. The funds were transferred to other Banco de Costa Rica accounts and then to accounts in other banks using the Sistema Interbancario de Negociacón y Pagos Electrónicos run by the Banco Central de Costa Rica.

The woman said she became aware of the thefts when her bank balance dropped from six figures to five. A.M. Costa Rica is not identifying the woman at this time because of the nature of her business and the cash flow that it generates.

The woman said the bank offered to reimburse her for amounts stolen that were in excess of the daily limit on the account, but she is holding out for the full amount.

The woman said she released a limited amount of information on the case so that other bank customers would be alerted to check their electronic accounts and balances.

Misunderstandings frequently are the result of not listening
Cada persona piensa que la otra es sorda.

 "Everybody thinks that everyone else is deaf."

How often do we find ourselves arguing with someone you think is just not listening? Or, on the other hand, how often do we simply assume that our interlocutors feel the same as we do?

The ability to actually listen to what someone is saying is a great virtue, especially in these frantic hectic times in which we live. Sometimes I think what a much better world this would be if folks would just take the time to listen to one another. How many little disagreements develop into big brouhahas because people really aren't listening to each other?  And often, by the time we realize it was a stupid argument to begin with, our pride refuses to permit us to withdraw and say we're sorry or we misunderstood. It's a shame that often we'll even permit people we love to go away mad simply for this egotistical reason.

This past weekend I was playing a friendly game of cards at our house with my sister and brother-in-law. On the last hand of the game, to make things a bit more interesting, we decided that whoever won would receive three times the value of the pot. Well, my brother-in-law came up the winner, but it was his contention that we must pay him three times three, or nine times the value of the kitty. Well, of course, an argument ensued and he kept insisting that he was right and the other two of us were wrong. I remember hearing myself saying to him that the problem was that he just wasn't listening.

This is, in my opinion, often his problem, but I realized he certainly isn't alone with it. Most of us in our daily lives do not stop to take a good deep breath, let alone listen with any care to what other people are saying to us. It seems that the ability to listen is another of the casualties of our modern feverishly frenzied lives.

Oct. 7 Costa Ricans will vote in a referendum on whether or not they want to ratify a trade agreement with the United States. The other day, while getting my hair cut, I was listening to my barber's opinions on the matter. He declared his opposition to the treaty simply because he does not trust our present government. Though I had to

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

agree with him to some extent, I felt I must point out to Don Edgar that this is not really the best reason for opposing the trade agreement. The best reason for either opposing or supporting anything is because one understands it.

CAFTA, as the treaty is known to English speakers, or TLC, as it is known to Spanish speakers, is, in my view, so complicated and circumlocutory as to confound the average speaker of either language. I dare say I sincerely doubt that there are more than a handful of Costa Ricans or Americans who have actually read this document. But in this case isn't reading tantamount to listening? And, as Sigmund Freud once said, "Listening is the beginning of understanding."

But I have plowed through three drafts of this treaty, and though my mind became so enervated I often wanted to stop reading, my two countries mean too much to me not to try to understand what this very important “agreement” is really all about.

One thing that has struck me is that the English version often seems much clearer than the Spanish. And it is this deceptive feature, more than any other, which has helped me to decide how I will vote Oct. 7th.

It appears to me that the negotiators of the trade agreement often were simply not listening to one another. And without listening, there can be little understanding.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 144

Relatives of Brazil's fiery airline crash protest near airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Relatives of people killed in Tuesday's airliner crash in Brazil gathered Sunday near Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport to protest air safety problems and the slow process of identifying the victims.

Some lay down on a roadway near the crash site to demonstrate their frustration. Authorities said Sunday 53 of the 189 victims had been identified.

Officials said the condition of the victims' remains has slowed the identification process.

Others called for improvement in Brazil's air safety record.

Tuesday a TAM Airlines Airbus A320 ran off the end of a
 runway, hit a gas station, and burned. Everyone on the plane and several people on the ground were killed.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva promised a thorough investigation. In a speech Friday, da Silva acknowledged the country's aviation system is undergoing difficulties, but he said it complies with all international standards.

Meanwhile, a failure of air traffic radar caused Brazilian controllers to turn back some international flights early Saturday.

Other flights were ordered to make unscheduled landings at other airports. The problem occurred at the air traffic control center at Manaus in northern Brazil. Flights were allowed to resume after the problem was fixed.

Chávez says that unlimited terms of office should only be allowed for president
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has said he believes unlimited terms in office should only be granted to the president — not to the governors and mayors.

In a national broadcast Sunday, Chávez said his proposed constitutional reform would only abolish term limits for the office he holds, because local and state officeholders are not involved with what he called "national integration."

Opposition critics have accused Chávez of moving toward a
totalitarian form of government that resembles Cuba. Chávez is a close ally of Cuban Leader Fidel Castro.

During his radio address, Chávez also said Venezuela would respect private property ownership rights — as long as the owners follow local laws.

In January, Venezuela's legislature voted to allow Chávez to rule by decree.

Since then, he has nationalized large parts of several industries including oil, electricity and telecommunications.

Ortega says the United States is working against him with opposition groups
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has accused the United States of backing opposition groups to subvert his leftist government.

In a speech in Managua, Ortega said U.S. officials were giving money and guidance to Nicaraguan opposition groups and media outlets.

Ortega led the leftist Sandanista National Liberation Front
that toppled the U.S.-backed regime of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. During the 1980s, the Soviet-backed Sandanistas fought a civil war against U.S.-funded Contra rebels.

Ortega was Nicaragua's president from 1985 until 1990, when he was voted out of office. He was re-elected as president late last year.

Since taking office in January, Ortega has strengthened relations with Iran, Venezuela and North Korea, countries critical of the United States.

Twin 6-point quakes in South America took place in remote areas and no damage reported
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S. geological agency says two strong earthquakes struck deep below the surface in remote regions of Argentina and Brazil.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the first quake hit Brazil's western state of Amazonas Saturday, at about 9:30 a.m. local time (13:30 UTC). It measured 6.2 out of a possible
10 on the Richter scale, which assesses the magnitude of earthquakes.

About three hours later, another quake shook the northern Jujuy region of Argentina, near the Bolivian border. That quake measured 6.1 on the Richter scale.

Both earthquakes occurred hundreds of kilometers underground, and there are no reports of damage.

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