spunkanado (
Thu, 24 Jul 1997 13:14:12 -0400 (EDT)

Law logs state on to new era: cybersignatures

Gov. John Kitzhaber signs and clicks into law a measure making digital
signatures legally binding

By Gail Kinsey Hill of The Oregonian staff

SALEM - With the flourish of a pen and the touch of a mouse, Gov.
John Kitzhaber on Wednesday hurled the state further into the
computer age by making digital signatures legal.

"Is it in hyperspace? ... I mean cyberspace," the amused and
bemused Kitzhaber said as he clicked House Bill 3046 into law.

The bill gives electronic signatures the same legal force and
effect as written signatures. The state Department of Consumer and
Business Services will develop criteria for a new verification

The technology, known as digital signatures or certificates, puts
an encrypted seal on an electronic document to prove its
authenticity. The ceremonial signing at the Capitol occurred via
two mediums: an ink pen and a personal computer.

As Kitzhaber clicked his electronic signature onto the bill, he
became the first person in Oregon to use the new system. The act
was symbolic; the law becomes effective Oct. 4.

"I think this will allow Oregon to be a pioneer in electronic
commerce," said Kitzhaber, an admitted Internet neophyte. "I'm
looking forward to this with anticipation ... and trepidation."

Oregon is not the first to allow digital signatures. Utah led the
way. Other states, including Washington and California, followed.

Technology experts expect businesses, particularly those involved
in international transactions, to most eagerly take advantage of
the system.

Frank Brawner, a lobbyist for the Oregon Banking Association and a
supporter of the bill, said companies will be able to transmit,
verify and process documents quickly and securely without the
delays that often accompany transmission of hardcopy contracts.

"No question, it's a beginning first step," Brawner said. Only the
future will tell how widely the system will be used, but "at least
now we're staying up with what's emerging," he said.

People might remain apprehensive about the digital signatures,
Brawner said, including him.

"How do I know the whole world isn't watching?" he said.

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Hillsboro, a sponsor of the bill and, as the
public affairs manager of GST Internet Inc., confident of a bright
techno-future, called the system "an authentication tool to enable
electronic commerce."

"It has the potential to be really big," he said.

The technologically challenged should think of the system in much
the same way they do the personal identification number for their
automated teller card, Hill said.

"Digital signatures really have nothing to do with the traditional
way of signing your name," he said.

The state will set up and monitor the system, but it won't issue
the digital signatures. That responsibility will fall to banks,
trust companies, Internet providers and other private companies
that conduct business by computer. The state would certify
companies that issue signatures.

For the bill signing, Kitzhaber used a digital signature Hill's
company issued. The Oregon law might run up against federal plans
to set up a national encryption system that could allow government
access to the codes that keep digital signatures secure. But the
Clinton administration and Congress haven't gotten beyond the
proposal stage.

Gail Kinsey Hill covers politics and government efficiency for the
Public Life team. Contact her by phone at 221-8590, by mail at 1320
S.W. Broadway, Portland, Ore. 97201, or by e mail at