Administration favors keeping exemptions to e-signature requirements

The Bush administration is calling on Congress to continue exempting an array of documents from a law that gives legal weight to e-signatures.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration urged Congress in a report issued Monday to retain current exemptions from the Electronic Signatures In Global E-Commerce (ESIGN) Act, which allows transactions such as mortgages to be completed entirely electronically.

The 2000 law exempted documents in nine categories: 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.

Those exemptions were included to allow lawmakers, as well as industry and consumer groups, to study the impact of e-signatures in those areas. Congress called on NTIA to conduct a three-year evaluation of the law to determine whether those areas should continue to be excused.

After collecting comments and studying the issue for nearly a year, the agency said it is too early to eliminate the nine exemptions to ESIGN. NTIA suggested that while the use of e-signatures has been growing, today's technology is not adequate enough to guard the confidentiality of the most sensitive documents, so Congress should not eliminate the exemptions.

The agency noted that in several of the categories, states are the primary governing entities and have enacted exemptions to their own e-signature laws for documents such as wills, court testimonies and family law papers. The elimination of some of the ESIGN exemptions could lead to inadvertent disclosures of information that is otherwise considered highly sensitive and confidential in some states, the report noted.

"After three years," the report said, "there has been remarkable progress in some of the areas covered by the exceptions in terms of the use of electronic signatures and records. ... Due to the high confidentiality and privacy interests inherent in transactions involving other exceptions (such as wills, family law, foreclosure and defaults, utility cancellations), there are few, if any, solutions other than ESIGN that institutions and the marketplace can provide at this time."

Moreover, NTIA found, "policies and practices for consumer protection in each area are still being established and incorporated into e-commerce and market systems."

The agency's recommendations incorporate advice that it received from various experts and industry groups that supported retaining the nine exemptions. They include trade associations for banks, mortgage lenders, financial services firms and lawyers.

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 G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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