Happy Birthday, ESIGN!!

On Wednesday, don’t be concerned/scared/shocked if you see your sales people looking somewhat calmer, your legal counsel winces a little less when you crack a lawyer joke, your chief risk officer smiles at you, and your controller pulls you over and eagerly points to the latest revenue figures.

Why? June 30th is the tenth anniversary of the US federal law that made their lives easier by putting electronic signatures on equal footing with wet ink! That’s right: 10 years ago tomorrow, President Bill Clinton digitally signed into law the ESIGN Act (eSignAct.pdf).

How is this important? The electronic signatures legalized with the ESIGN Act produce dramatic, real-world benefits for Adobe’s customers.

For example:

  • The US Government Printing Office uses Adobe products to produce trusted electronic copies of key government documents, like public laws and the Federal Budget, saving millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of trees.

  • Financial institutions like Snap-On Credit have embraced electronic signatures and see significant reductions in data entry errors and substantial improvements in time to close deals.
  • Manufacturers like P&G report productivity gains of 5-10% by switching to Adobe-enabled electronic signatures.
  • The first digitally signed US District Court judicial order was signed with Adobe products, ushering in a new era for the US judicial system.
  • Major universities have deployed Adobe products to create certified electronic transcripts that can be delivered in 95% less time.

In fact, Aberdeen Group just published a research report that describes how leading organizations get, and stay, ahead when it comes to sales. Electronic signatures were noted as a primary technology multiplier used to reduce the length of the sales cycle and make it easier for staff to do their jobs and for customers to do business with the implementing organization.

But this was not always so. Back at the turn of the millennium, the internet was experiencing explosive, chaotic growing pains, and everyone was fighting to understand the implications of this new technology. Private industry was already taking advantage of the efficiencies presented by the internet, but questions were growing about how businesses could trust in electronic commerce without an effective legal backing for the nascent technology.

The president’s signature capped off months of combined efforts of hundreds of lawmakers and industry representatives to create a law that could provide confidence in e-commerce, protect consumer’s rights, and allow businesses to take full advantage of the cost and time savings that electronic signatures and records offered.

The law passed 426-4 in the US House of Representatives and 87-0 in the US Senate, and those overwhelming majorities tell a strong story about the importance of the subject matter and why it received support from both sides of the aisle. Let’s look back at what noted legislators had to say at the time:

[The ESIGN Act] will provide the basic foundation, or the rules of the road, for the future of electronic commerce in America. It will foster the continued expansion of electronic commerce. More importantly, it will empower consumers to take part in a vibrant segment of our economy. It will afford consumers from all across America the real opportunity, if they so choose, to take advantage of electronic commerce. This, to me, is the crux of this legislation. The ability of our citizens in all 50 States to improve the quality of their lives…Electronic signatures is an innovative technology whose time has come.Senator Trent Lott (retired)

Today in America we are in the midst of a phenomenal transformation from the industrial age to the information age…But one great barrier to the continued growth of Internet commerce is the lack of consistent, national rules governing the use of electronic signatures…This bipartisan legislation can eliminate this unnecessary barrier to the growth of electronic commerce by providing consistent, fair rules governing electronic signatures and records[,] thus providing industry with the legal certainty needed to grow electronic commerce. [The ESIGN Act] is a positive, confidence-creating tool that will allow the Internet to continue to develop towards its full potential as a conduit for information, communication and commerce…The value of these public benefits should not be underestimated. Senator John McCain (AZ)

Due to the historical significance and impact of this Act, and in honor of the 10th anniversary of its enactment, Adobe has signed on with other industry leaders and the Electronic Signatures and Records Association (ESRA) to support the designation of June 30 as “National ESIGN Day,” celebrating the benefits this law has had on US society, business and citizens.

(Click on the link above to see Adobe’s digitally signed support letter delivered to Representative Jim McDermott (WA). The PDF includes several key features of electronic signatures in Adobe products: multiple in-line signatures, signature appearances, native trust (CDS), certified attachments, long-term validation, etc!)

For as long as there have been electronic signature laws, Adobe has been providing leading-edge electronic signature technology. When ESIGN was still being negotiated and the Signature Directive was just finding its way into the European Union, Acrobat 4.0 debuted with digital signature support. Since then, Adobe has led the industry in introducing feature after feature that have advanced the state-of-the-art in electronic signatures, including higher assurance credential trust programs like CDS & AATL, server-side certification and batch validation of signed electronic documents, long-term signature validation (LTV), and ecosystem-wide extensibility to support evolving signature hardware and user interfaces. Adobe has built on existing standards, and at the same time has created new foundations with standards like PDF and PAdES that provide worldwide confidence and transparency.

What will come next? New Adobe services like Adobe eSignatures are only the tip of the next-gen iceberg. You can bet Adobe will continue to push the edge of the envelope–well, at least the e-envelope!

Join us in raising a glass to the 10th anniversary of the US ESIGN Act, and let’s wish it many happy returns.