Clinton Set to Sign Digital Signatures Bill Today

FRAMINGHAM (06/30/2000) - In one of the nation's most historic buildings, President Clinton Friday plans to sign a long-awaited and landmark piece of legislation that gives most computer-generated signatures the same legal weight as ones signed in ink on paper.

The president was scheduled to sign the bill this morning in Philadelphia's Congress Hall, which served as the meeting place for the U.S. Congress from 1790 to 1800. A White House spokesman said Clinton would first sign the bill "the old-fashioned way," with a pen on paper, in order to officially make it legal.

But then he planned to symbolically repeat the signing digitally, using a "smart card" that holds personal information about the president and his digital signature. An electronic image of his signature was slated to be placed on a digital version of the legislation displayed on a computer screen, according to the White House.

The bill, formally known as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, was approved by the House of Representatives on June 14 and by the Senate two days later after months of political wrangling and attempts to forge a compromise between different versions of the measure that the two bodies had proposed.

In a White House briefing yesterday, Clinton administration press secretary Joe Lockhart called the bill "a very important piece of legislation that will advance e-commerce in this country." Lockhart added that the new law "will provide the tools that e-commerce needs, while at the same time protecting consumers and giving them the same protections that they have in more traditional (forms of) commerce."

The digital signatures law takes effect Oct. 1. Supporters say it will also have a huge effect on business-to-business e-commerce by speeding up the ability of companies to do business with one another through online procurement exchanges and electronic marketplaces.

Currently, companies that buy supplies, submit bids or cut deals via the Internet have to follow up later by sending paper documents to be signed manually. With digital signatures, industry analysts said, they should be able to immediately execute documents online without having to send faxes or overnight letters.

Some documents won't be able to use digital signatures under the new law, including foreclosure notices on primary homes, insurance cancellation notices and documents related to adoptions and other family law matters.

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