A bill that would have set national standards for recognizing the legal merit of digital signatures failed to get enough votes in the U.S. House of Representatives in November and may not be brought back to the floor until next year. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, which was written by the House Commerce Committee, fell four votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The consumer groups which opposed the bill did not object to electronic signatures, but to a provision that would have allowed companies to start sending all contracts, warranty information and product-recall notices electronically, rather than through the mail. The Clinton administration favored a differ-ent version of the bill drafted in the House Judiciary Committee which would have authorized electronic signatures, but did not relieve companies of the obligation to send contracts, warranty information, and product-recall notices by mail.
This story caught our attention because our consulting firm uses fax transmission for proposals, contract documents, acceptance letters, etc., rather than e-mail Clients and vendors often suggest that we are behind the times by using an old-fashioned technology. They apparently fail to realize that an electronic mail message is not legally binding. The representations made therein cannot be enforced. Not until digital signatures are made legal will it be possible to send a legally binding document via the Internet. Until then, a signature on a fax transmission is the fastest way to obtain a legally binding representation from a consultant or vendor.