Georgia's Legal Moves

In 1997, Gwinnett County applied for and received a special writ from the state Supreme Court to develop the video warrant system as a test. Previously, state law required that the person making an arrest had to appear in person before a judge. The legislature passed a law making videoconferencing legal in this particular warrant application.

A second piece of legislation, the March 1997 Georgia Digital Signatures Act (www.efga.org/digsig), permitted the legal use of digital signatures under four conditions: the signature had to be unique to the person using it, capable of verification, under the sole contract of the person using it and linked to data in such a manner that if the data were changed, the electronic signature would be invalidated.

Georgia government executives are enthusiastic about such uses for digital signatures as in Gwinnett County, but they also want to focus on the technology's wider commercial uses. "We support [digital signatures] as a way of promoting economic development," said Mike Hale, Georgia's chief information officer. To that end, the state adopted a broader rather than a more narrow interpretation of digital signatures.

"We recognize any electronic signature, including public- or private-key technology, if it can meet those four conditions," Hale said. "We didn't follow the detailed implementation of a state like Utah, but took more of an approach similar to California's, establishing a standard that needed to be met by that technology." As an amendment to the act, Hale's office has been charged with developing a public-key infrastructure for the state.

Back in Gwinnett County, Allen Camp's office at the Judical Circuit's Justice and Administration Center opted for PenOp Inc.'s proprietary signature technology because the project has a closed constituency-a few hundred officers and judges-and because project leaders didn't want to wait for the state to settle on a standard. A public-key research report will not be issued until December, Hale said, with implementation planned for sometime next year.

"There's also some administrative overhead keeping up with [public-key] passwords," Camp said. "Since we're a closed little group, we'd just as soon register officers and train the system one time."

Initially, users enter their signature repeatedly until it is stored in the PenOp system. Then, each time an officer wants to use the software, he must enter a badge number and password. Once contact is made with the judge, the officer enters his digital signature, which must be validated by the system. "To enhance security, we set the threshold pretty high," Camp said. "It still takes me six or seven tries sometimes to get it to accept [my signature.]"

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