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Digital Signatures
Description The American Bar Association Information Security Committee issued Digital Signature Guidelines in 1996. The purpose is to "establish a safe harbor—a secure, computer- based signature equivalent—which will
  1. minimize the incidence of electronic forgeries,
  2. enable and foster the reliable authentication of documents in computer form,
  3. facilitate commerce by means of computerized communications, and
  4. give legal effect to the general import of the technical standards for authentication of computerized messages."
The ABA recommended the existing protocol of a public key and private key cryptography system with third party certificate authorities.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Digital Signatures
Summary The American Bar Association Information Security Committee issued Digital Signature Guidelines in 1996. The purpose is to "establish a safe harbor—a secure, computer- based signature equivalent—which will
  1. minimize the incidence of electronic forgeries,
  2. enable and foster the reliable authentication of documents in computer form,
  3. facilitate commerce by means of computerized communications, and
  4. give legal effect to the general import of the technical standards for authentication of computerized messages."
The ABA recommended the existing protocol of a public key and private key cryptography system with third party certificate authorities.

The ABA noted the role of signatures in forming contracts: "Evidence: A signature authenticates a writing by identifying the signer with a signed document. When a signer makes a mark in a distinctive manner, the writing becomes attributable to the signer. Ceremony: The act of signing a document calls to the signer's attention the legal significance of his act, and thereby helps prevent 'inconsiderate engagements.' Approval: A signature expresses the signer's approval or authorization of the writing or her intention that it have legal effect. Efficiency and Logistics: A signature often fives a sense of clarity and finality to the transaction and may lessen the subsequent need to inquire beyond the face of a document. Checks, for example, rely on the formal requirements of a signature to change hands rapidly and with minimal interruption."

While signatures are usually considered a formality, they can be of consequence in case of dispute, so "sound practice still calls for transactions to be formalized in a manner which assures the parties of their validity and enforceability." Hence, a signature should

  1. indicate who signed a document and it should be difficult for another person to produce that signature without authorization;
  2. identify what is signed, making it difficult to falsify or alter the signed matter or the signature;
  3. be an affirmative act; and
  4. "provide the greatest possible assurance of both signer authenticity and document authenticity, with the least possible expenditure of resources."
The Committee noted that digital signature technology surpasses paper technology in all these attributes.

At least 14 states have passed legislation formally recognizing digital signatures; others states are following suit. The 1995 Utah Digital Signature Act (Utah Code Ann. § 46-3- 101) is considered a model statute. It is designed to encourage the use of digital signatures and minimize the incidence of forged signatures. The Act provides that a digital signature is "as valid as it had been written on paper." A signature using a public key from a government-licensed certificate authority "is a legally valid signature" unless the presumption can be rebutted by evidence.

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