State Governments Can Reduce Waste and Save Money by Promoting E-Signatures

by Lisa Lindgren

posted on 08-04-2016

Posted by Anne Perkins, Sr. Manager, State and Local Government Relations

Today, we do everything electronically. Yet we still sign documents the same way our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. We edit, share, and archive documents electronically so why not sign them electronically?

Electronic signatures have done a lot more than just reduce paper cuts since the ESIGN Act was signed into law almost sixteen years ago. They’ve transformed the way we interact with businesses and government agencies. Yet many agencies (federal, state, and local) still face confusion about what constitutes a valid signature. Most know that they are legal, but unease and conflicting statutes prevent robust implementation. If governors and state legislators want to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and eliminate unnecessary waste associated with archaic document management processes, they should promote e-signatures within government agencies and ensure clear laws are in place to promote private sector adoption.

In California, two separate statutes offer conflicting definitions of what constitutes a valid electronic signature. In 1995, the state enacted a law that authorized use of a “ digital signature” in any written communication with a public agency. Then, in 1999, the state enacted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) which states that an “electronic signature” is valid and enforceable. These conflicting terms and a lack of clarity led to a number of court cases and years of confusion.

While the two terms may sound similar, there is a big difference between a “digital signature” and an “electronic signature.” Digital signatures use secure key encryption to authenticate the identity of the signer and the integrity of the document, while an “electronic signature” is a broader term referring to any electronic symbol related to the signing of a contract. This can range from electronically checking a box, typing one’s name into a data field, or clicking an “Agree” button. While digital signatures play a critical role, electronic signatures represent the greatest opportunity for government agencies and businesses because of their speed and ease-of-use.

Thankfully, the California Assembly recently passed a bill that amends current law to clarify that a “digital signature” is one type of “electronic signature.” This simple clarification will provide guidance to agencies and businesses wanting to adopt e-signature solutions. The bill now moves to the California State Senate where it is expected to pass.

Contrary to popular belief e-signatures are safer, faster, and easier. You don’t have to print, sign, and scan or return by snail mail. They are more secure because there is no guarantee that a handwritten signature belongs to the intended signee. Digital rights management can be enabled in electronic documents to give all parties peace of mind that no changes were made after a document was signed. Perhaps most importantly, electronic signatures are good for the environment and the bottom line. There are tremendous reductions in paper, power, and carbon emissions every time a document is signed electronically.

To date, 47 of the 50 states have adopted some form of the UETA, leading to a generally consistent legal framework for e-signatures from one state to the next, but more needs to be done to encourage e-signature adoption. Governors across the country interested in reducing waste and making government more efficient should make e-signatures a top priority.

Topics: Data & Privacy