WASHINGTON - The House could vote on a digital signature bill as early as Tuesday after negotiators approved compromise legislation late last week. The Senate is expected to act soon afterward.
President Clinton praised the bill and urged Congress to send it to him as soon as possible for his signature. He described the bipartisan compromise as "responsible and balanced," saying the legislation would give businesses absolute certainty that online contracts are as valid as paper contracts yet would preserve the rights of consumers.
"The legislation would remove barriers to e-commerce by establishing technology-neutral legal standards for electronic contracts and signatures," the President said in a statement issued Thursday. "It would ensure that consumer protections online will be equivalent to those in the paper world."
Though financial services companies failed to win all the last-minute concessions they sought, industry officials praised the agreement and urged swift passage.
"The passage of e-signature legislation will permit Americans to contract with confidence on the Internet, hastening the Internet's capacity as a tool for commerce," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "As the new economy develops, the legal structure created by the bill will help consumers and lenders as they move from paper-based systems."
The legislation also would permit financial services companies to make mortgage and other disclosures required by consumer protection laws electronically instead of on paper. Treasury officials contend the bill will revolutionize financial services more than the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, by letting banks close mortgages through their Web sites and send credit card, checking, or other statements by electronic mail.
Only four of the 22 members of the House-Senate conference committee refused to back the compromise. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm said he did not sign it because the requirements for getting consumer consent to receive disclosures electronically are too onerous. For instance, lenders would have to send a one-time test message so customers can verify they are able to open e-mail and attachments sent electronically.
But Sen. Gramm said he would vote for the legislation on the Senate floor because regulators may grant exemptions if undue burden is shown.