National Governors' Association Reports on E-Commerce

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Looking to promote the growth of electronic commerce, 44 states have passed laws or regulations that support the use of electronic signatures in digital transactions, according to a study released today by the National Governors' Association.

The push to recognize the legal validity of electronic signatures has gained even more momentum as states have begun working together to develop systems that are compatible across state boundaries, according to the NGA study, "Policies Concerning the Acceptance of Electronic Signatures: States Take the Lead." It was one of several studies NGA released that address the top issues facing state governments.

As the public and private sectors look to conduct financial transactions or deliver services over the Internet, "it is very important that we have a method to let you know who the person is on the other end of a transaction," said Jim Whitter, a policy analyst in the National Resources Policy Studies Division at the NGA Center for Best Practices, speaking here at a briefing.

Electronic signatures are designed to authenticate the identity of a party involved in an electronic transaction, just as a handwritten signature serves a paper contract. Most states have passed or amended laws or regulations to make sure such signatures are legally binding.

Electronic signatures come in a variety of forms, ranging from something as simple as a password to something as complex as an encryption-based digital signature, which serves as the basis of a public-key infrastructure program. Nine states require the use of digital-signature technology, which is generally viewed as the most secure method of conducting and protecting digital transactions.

However, according to NGA, six states still have not taken any action on electronic signatures: Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. These states either have not yet fashioned legislation or they do not feel it is necessary, Whitter said.

The NGA Center for Best Practices today also released a study on the efforts of two states, Maryland and Virginia, to update the technical skills of information technology workers in the public and private sectors.

According to the study, "Maryland and Virginia Strive to Improve their Information Technology Workforce," these states have taken steps that other states might adopt. In particular, NGA cites the development of partnerships between public and private sectors to provide training and education, as well as mixing short- and long-term strategies to address the problem.

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