Officials appeal for continued e-signature exemptions

Federal courts and the Environmental Protection Agency are urging the Bush administration to maintain language that exempts documents relating to court cases and hazardous materials from a law that gives legal weight to electronic signatures.

In comments filed earlier this month, judicial officials told the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that they want more time to promulgate their own rules for expanding the use of electronic-based documents before being forced to comply with the 2000 Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act.

That statute gave legal weight to transactions such as mortgages or loans completed entirely electronically. But it also included exemptions in six categories so that lawmakers could better study the potential impact of the move to e-signatures.

NTIA is collecting comments on those six categories and will report to Congress by June. The categories include: court records; wills and testaments; domestic and family law records; contracts governed by state commercial law; cancellation notices for utility services; cancellation notices for health or life insurance benefits; property foreclosures, evictions and default notices; product-recall notices; and shipping papers for hazardous materials and dangerous goods.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said its exemptions should be maintained. "The federal judiciary continues its efforts to consider how best to balance the needs of the courts, litigants (including consumers) and the public in the specific content of judicial processes," the office stated. "Removing [the] ESIGN exception ... might create uncertainties" in those arenas.

Judicial rules already allow the use of e-signatures on certain records. But the office noted that eliminating the ESIGN exemption and providing full legal acceptance of e-signatures for all court documents could raise concerns about issues that "may be peculiar to court contexts," such as ensuring that due-process rights of criminals are protected.

EPA also argued that revoking the exemption for documents concerning hazardous materials would inhibit the agency's ability to implement legal mandates to ensure that products such as pesticides are properly handled.

Under ESIGN rules, the EPA noted that labels for pesticides could be electronically stored but added that "unlabeled pesticide containers and application devices themselves present dangers" because workers could not instantly identify a product and might misapply it. The exemption also ensures that certain materials are transported and tracked with proper identification, EPA said.

But some opponents of the exemptions argue that they discourage innovation and stalls advances in the covered sectors. University of Cincinnati law professor James O'Reilly, for example, told NTIA that the ESIGN exemption for hazardous waste is hampering improved efficiency in the sector when it comes to transporting materials.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.