September 2000 – A simple click of a computer mouse is now enough to make documents legally binding in the US, as the new national digital signature law has now taken effect.
Proponents claim “e-signatures” will revolutionise virtually every aspect of business and consumer transactions.
However, experts warn that the revolution will take time and that many hurdles – some psychological, others technical – stand in the way.
But eventually, the technology promises to save mountains of paperwork and speed up everything from online business-to-business transactions to buying a house.
In early July, President Bill Clinton signed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act with a swipe of a smart card containing his digital signature held in a chip.
Hailing the bill as a “landmark in legislation”, Mr Clinton said it would spur economic growth and widen the role of the internet. Using digital technology to sign the bill into law made for good publicity, but Mr Clinton also used a pen to sign the paper document – just in case.
Giving digital signatures the same legal standing as conventional ink-on-paper ones is seen as essential to further evolution of the internet.
But, as Mr Clinton’s dual signing showed, the physical aspect of the traditional signature has an enduring psychological hold – with or without the passage of laws.
Many technology companies see a bonanza in providing the tools and software required to support digital signatures.
“There will be a tremendous need for software that can manage the complex business processes that will replace current paper-based approaches,” says Yosi Amram, chief executive of Valicert, a leading provider of digital signature security products for businesses.