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Clinton Manually Signs E-SIGN Into Law

30 June 2000

President Clinton said he wanted to be like John F. Kennedy when he was growing up, but he had to settle for the founding fathers routine, signing major digital signatures legislation into law at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Rather than capping off the finishing touches on the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (E-SIGN) Act with a digital signature of his own, Clinton used the standard pen-and-ink approach, as US law currently dictates.

The signing ceremony also was hampered by yet another digital age limitation, as the EXBTV.com site that was to carry a live Webcast of the event, experienced a server crash.

Despite the technological limitations that graced the event, E-SIGN officially was signed into law, though the statutes of the bill, which set federal guidelines for electronic signatures and document delivery via the Internet, will take effect on a staggered basis into early 2001.

Praise for the bill was quick in coming from Republican supporters, including House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, who said that the bill, S. 761, "is the latest effort by the Republican Congress to promote the new economy."

"It's fitting that one day after an online auction of an original Declaration of Independence on Sothebys.com, we've made it possible for every American to put their John Hancock on an Internet transaction," Watts said in a statement, taking full advantage of the signatory irony of the location. "I commend President Clinton for his support of this historic legislation."

House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley, R-Virginia, said that "Whether you are opening up an IRA account or applying for a mortgage, you would be able to do the entire transaction online."

Bliley also thanked Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Michigan, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Arizona, and Commerce Ranking Democrat Fritz Hollings, Democrat-South Carolina, for their work on the bill, as well as outgoing Commerce Secretary William Daley for "working with us to get the job done."

Abraham who sponsored the original Senate bill, said that "By signing my electronic signatures bill today in Philadelphia, the president puts the final stroke on a bill that will start a new revolution in the e-commerce world."

Abraham also noted the praise for the bill - and himself - that came from some industry representatives, including Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers.

"Today Spence Abraham is seeing the fruits of more than two years of sustained effort," Jasinowski said. "He's consistently been the strongest engine pulling this train down the track."

Abraham and Bliliey had offered last-minute changes to the bill to try to appease both financial services industry representatives and consumer protection advocates. One of the main concerns of the bill from a financial perspective was that it placed too much of a burden on document senders to make sure that the recipients have the right equipment to read the documents.

Consumer advocates disagreed with the idea that certain documents could be made available in a digital format only, which conceivably could keep non-Internet-proficient people from receiving important notices. The bill now contains an opt-in provision that customers first must agree to.

The law, over some state objections, supersedes about 40 state laws on digital signatures, pending the adoption of uniform standards under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which not all states have yet adopted.

The majority of the law's provisions will go into effect on Oct. 1.

Reported by Newsbytes, www.newsbytes.com.

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