Passing a digital signature law ought to be a no-brainer, right? Any cryptographer will tell you that a digital signature can offer more security than its pen-on-paper counterpart. Legally valid digital signatures will speed the growth of e-commerce, and what congressperson could possibly vote against that?
On Monday the House killed a Republican-sponsored bill that would have given an Internet-mediated, electronically signed contract the same legal validity as a paper contract with a handwritten signature. The White House withdrew support of the bill while Democrats argued successfully that it would allow companies to sidestep existing consumer protections simply by adding one more paragraph of fine print to boilerplate contracts.
Yesterday the San Jose Mercury News and USA Today ran variants of an AP story on the digital signature defeat. Much of this coverage aired the Democrats' concerns over consumer protection. The inevitable partisan sniping in the wake of the bill's defeat got a mention late in the piece in a quote from the bill's Republican sponsor, Tom Bliley (R-Va.): "The administration... has decided that they must deny congressional Republicans a victory on this important technology legislation."
Today ZDNet picked up the story and leaned harder on the partisan angle. ZDNet's Jennifer Mack talked to a spokesman for the House Democratic leadership and fielded this riposte: "Republicans are just trying to prove they're more high-tech friendly. They see high-tech policy as an easy way to raise money in Silicon Valley." Wired News ran an unbylined piece covering much the same ground as had the previous day's AP stories. Wired News noted that California has passed digital signature legislation and that a Senate version of the failed House bill may keep the issue alive at the federal level. - K.D.
Legislation on Digital Signatures Loses in House Vote (AP)
San Jose Mercury News
House Rejects Measure for E-Signatures (AP)
House Defeats Digital Signature Bill
House Kills Digital Signatures