Electronic Signatures Get a Shot-in-the-arm

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After more than a decade, could electronic signatures be poised to take off within the Federal Government?  Yes, and it’s about time!

Last week, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued a procedural notice to encourage greater use of electronic signatures.  This comes only weeks after legislation was introduced to accomplish this purpose, and policymakers in Congress began pressing the Obama Administration for answers.

As the SBA notice acknowledges, streamlining the lengthy and complicated loan application process is crucial for small businesses to secure the capital they need to get their products or services to market; and electronic signatures are critical to that process.

For many years now, within the Federal Government, electronic signatures have served the same purpose as handwritten signatures.  This policy was established back in 1998, when Congress passed the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA, Pub. L. 105-277) requiring that, when practicable, Federal agencies use electronic forms, electronic filing, and electronic signatures to conduct official business with the public by 2003.

This was followed by adoption of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (the ESIGN Act),which removed a myriad of anachronistic and inconsistent state and federal requirements for paper and ink documents and signatures in the private sector. In so doing, the ESIGN Act eliminated many of the legal uncertainties that have surrounded the use of electronic signatures and records in commerce and enabled businesses and consumers to more fully realize the cost savings possible through all-electronic transactions.

Suffice it to say, for over a decade the policy and technical frameworks have been in place for electronic signatures to be the “wave of the future” for Federal and state governments as well as the private sector.  For those ready to realize the benefits of electronic signatures, the guidance was updated just last year.

Here’s hoping that the future has finally arrived!

David David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy.