Congress signs off on digital signatures

A contract signed online would bear the same legal status as one signed on paper under legislation

overwhelmingly approved by Congress this week.

President Clinton has said he would sign the bill, which was hailed as one of the most significant pieces of

high-tech legislation in this session of Congress. It could set the stage for a vast change in the way people

do business in the private sector and with the federal government, which already is experimenting with

electronic signatures.

Jonathan Zuck, the president of the Association for Competitive Technology, said passage of the legislation

"will help usher in the next generation of e-commerce where consumers are empowered to take full

advantage of online transactions offered over the Internet."

One of the business areas that will be impacted by the Electronic Signatures in Global and National

Commerce Act (E-SIGN) is government documents, said Bob Pratt, director of product marketing for

VeriSign Inc. This area includes citizen-to-government transactions for permits, applications for aid and

other records that currently must be carried out on paper.

Some states already have passed digital signature laws that apply to transactions within their boundaries.

The E-SIGN Act covers transactions with the federal government and interstate transactions.

The authors of the bill complied with the wishes of the information technology industry and did not specify

the types of technology that can be used to create an electronic signature. That "essentially means it's going

to be wide open for the types of technologies that are going to be used," said Matthew Tanielian, a

spokesman for the Information Technology Industry Council.

—IDG News Service reporter Margret Johnston contributed to this article.

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