Bill Clinton photo

Remarks on Signing the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act in Philadelphia

June 30, 2000

I would like to begin by acknowledging the presence here of Congressman Joe Hoeffel from Pennsylvania. He represents the district adjoining Philadelphia, and I thank you, Joe. And Martha Aikens, the superintendent of the Independence National Historic Park, where we are— thank you, Martha.

To all the other Park Service employees— that's one of the few Federal jobs that I haven't held that I'd like to hold. [Laughter] And I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation to Dave Barram, the Administrator of the General Services Administration that manages our Federal buildings and has also played a critical role in putting so much of the Federal Government on-line. Thank you, Dave. He took a modest pay cut to leave Silicon Valley to work for me several years ago, and I'm very grateful.

Two hundred and thirteen years ago, about 100 feet from where we are now, in a summer as hot as this one, the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution of the United States. In the very first article of that document, they wrote that Government shall make no laws, quote, "impairing the obligation of contracts." James Madison called the contract clause, and I quote again, "a constitutional bulwark in favor of personal security and private rights." He and his fellow framers understood that the right of individuals to enter into commercial contracts was fundamental not just for economic growth but for the preservation of liberty itself.

Just a few moments ago I had the privilege of signing into law legislation that carries the spirit of the Founders' wisdom into the information age. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act will open up new frontiers of economic opportunity while protecting the rights of American consumers. The new law will give fresh momentum to what is already the longest economic expansion in our history, an expansion driven largely by the phenomenal growth in information technologies, particularly the Internet.

Firms across America are moving their supply and sales channels on-line, improving customer service, and reducing costs. The resulting productivity gains are rippling throughout our economy, helping wages to rise, businesses to start, jobs to be created without causing inflation. And individuals are not just buying and selling online; they're gaining information that is empowering them as consumers and as citizens.

Perhaps no invention since the railroad has had such potential to expand our opportunities and broaden our horizons—I would argue, more profound potential. But that potential is now being held back by old laws that were written, ironically, to protect the sanctity of contracts. Laws that require pen and ink signatures on paper contracts for them to be enforceable.

In order to unleash the full potential of the digital economy, Vice President Gore and I unveiled, 3 years ago, our Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. In that document, we set out the principles we believe should shape the rules governing electronic conflicts. We said that the rules should be simple and nonregulatory, that they should not favor one technology over another, and they should give individuals and organizations maximum freedom to form electronic contracts as they see fit.

I'm grateful that Congress has kept those principles in mind as it drafted the Electronic Signatures Act. Under this landmark legislation—which I want to point out, passed by overwhelming majorities of both parties in both Houses, and I compliment both the Republicans and the Democrats for their support of this— on-line contracts will now have the same legal force as equivalent paper contracts. Companies will have the legal certainty they need to invest and expand in electronic commerce. They will be able not only to purchase products and services but to contract to do so. And they could potentially save billions of dollars by sending and retaining monthly statements and other records in electronic form.

Eventually, vast warehouses of paper will be replaced by servers about the size of VCR's. Customers will soon enjoy a whole new universe of on-line services. With the swipe of a smart card and the click of a mouse, they will be able to finalize mortgages, sign insurance contracts, or open brokerage accounts.

Just as importantly, the law affords consumers who contract on-line the very same kind of protections and records, such as financial disclosures, they currently receive when they sign paper contracts. Consumers will be able to choose whether to do business and receive records on paper or on-line. They will have the power to decide if they want to receive notice and disclosures electronically. It will be the company's responsibility to ensure that the data it sends to a consumer can be read on that consumer's computer—no more E-mail attachments with gibberish inside.

Finally, Government agencies will have the authority to enforce the laws, protect the public interest, and carry out their missions in the electronic world.

For 8 years now, I have worked to set forth a new vision of Government and politics that marries our most enduring values to the demands of the new information age. In many ways, the Electronic Signatures Act exemplifies that vision. It shows what we in Washington can accomplish when we put progress above partisanship, when we reach across party lines to work for the American people and our common future.

I want to congratulate the many organizations and again, the lawmakers in both parties, and the members of our administration who worked so hard to get this bill passed, and offer a special thanks to Vice President Gore who long ago had the vision to understand the potential of this technology, and who has led our administration's efforts to harness that potential to benefit all Americans.

Now, let's see if this works.

[At this point, the President electronically signed the bill.]

Now, we have to wait a while while the act comes up and the magic has worked. It's amazing to think that Americans will soon be using cards like this one for everything from hiring a lawyer to closing a mortgage. Just imagine if this had existed 224 years ago, the Founding Fathers wouldn't have had to come all the way to Philadelphia on July 4th for the Declaration of Independence. They could have E-mailed their "John Hancocks" in.

[The President verified the electronic signature.]

Well, it works, and it will work for you. And all of you young people will someday look back on this day that you were here and marvel that we thought it was any big deal. [Laughter] And that will be the ultimate test of success. I wish you well; I hope we've done a good job of preparing your future.

Happy Fourth of July weekend. Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:57 a.m. at Congress Hall in the Independence National Historical Park. S. 761, approved June 30, was assigned Public Law No. 106-229.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Signing the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act in Philadelphia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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