Clinton Signs E-Signature Bill

Friday, June 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Clinton signed a bill Friday giving an online ``John Hancock'' the same legal validity as a signature in pen and ink. He signed the legislation electronically — but did it first the old-fashioned way as well.

``Online contracts will now have the same legal force as equivalent paper contracts,'' Clinton said. He declared that signing one's name online will soon become a common way to hire a lawyer, sign a mortgage, open a brokerage account, or sign an insurance contract.

The new law will spur electronic commerce and ``give fresh momentum to what is already the longest economic expansion in history'' while protecting consumers, Clinton said.

In a brief ceremony at Congress Hall, a few steps from where American patriots signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Clinton said the new technology could potentially save millions of dollars by replacing ``warehouses full of paper documents'' with their electronic equals.

Clinton first signed the bill on paper, then did so on a computer.

``Now, let's see if this works,'' he said as he inserted a card encoded with his signature into a computer and entered the code name ``Buddy'' — which happens to be the name of his dog.

The presidential signature appeared on the screen. The president grinned.

``Well it worked,'' he told his audience which included about 100 business and computer science students from Philadelphia Community College, the University of Pennsylvania and Eastern College.

``And it will work for you,'' he said. ``And all of you young people will someday look back on this day ... and marvel that it was considered a big deal.''

Congress Hall, part of Independence National Park in downtown Philadelphia, was chosen because its fame rests on some of the most famous signatures in American history, including John Hancock's bold signature on the Declaration of Independence.

The measure takes effect Oct. 1. As of March 1, 2001, companies can begin the electronic retention of legal records such as mortgages and financial securities.

The new law provides that no contract, signature or record shall be denied legally binding status just because it is in electronic form. But it also provides that most electronic contracts and documents will be legally enforceable only if they are in a form capable of bring retained and accurately reproduced for later reference.

The White House said that all existing consumer protection laws including those prohibiting fraud and deception will continue to apply.

For the record, Clinton has signed his name electronically before: In September 1998 in Dublin, Ireland, he and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern sat at matching laptop computers and used ``smart cards,'' personalized codes and digital readers, to electronically affix their signatures to an electronic-commerce agreement.

Before getting around to the signing ceremony Friday, Clinton addressed a convention of the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, imploring the union to challenge the Republican Congress and GOP candidates' domestic policy issues, including a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients and a patient's bill of rights.

He accused the GOP of offering sugar pills, not substantive legislation, and said mockingly: ``They are so clever. They call me slick?''

``This election is about the differences and the choices before the American people,'' Clinton said. ``The Republicans are coming here to Philadelphia (for the GOP convention) and butter won't melt in their mouth. But you listen to the differences.''

``On the issues that matter most, including the protection of labor rights, there are differences, big differences,'' he said. He said House Republicans this week voted for a ``weak'' prescription drug plan ``so they could say they had voted for something.''

``We want a real bill; they want to deflect the issue,'' he said.