Digital Signature Bill Inches Closer to a Vote

WASHINGTON (05/30/2000) - Long-stalled digital signature legislation may be moving closer to a vote in Congress. A conference committee report, intended to reconcile differences between the U.S. House and Senate versions of the bill, now has the backing of a majority of the conference committee's members, said several sources familiar with the process.

However, the report has not been publicly released, and there is still a question mark about whether such a release is imminent.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an Arlington, Virginia-based trade association, today called on lawmakers to pass a digital signature bill and said the conference committee report contains the major elements it wants to see in the bill.

The proposed compromise would put electronic signatures on legal par with written ones, would preempt state digital signature laws to keep a patchwork of different rules from developing and is technically neutral because it doesn't favor any single form of digital signature technology, said David Colton, a program manager at the ITAA.

The legislation has also received much attention from the financial services industry, which wants to have the ability to issue mortgages and loans online.

But the use of electronic signatures to authenticate financial contracts has raised a number of consumer-protection issues.

Margot Saunders, the managing attorney at the Washington office of the National Consumer Law Center and a prominent critic of the digital signature legislation, said the conference committee's bill still doesn't offer the protection she'd like. "We're disappointed it's not better, but were happy it's not worse," she said.

Any report issued by the conference committee must still get approval from the full House and Senate. It also has to pass muster with the Clinton administration, which has been critical of the legislation in the past.

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