Clinton signs Y2K liability protection bill

Clinton signs Y2K liability protection bill

By Shruti Dat' and Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

President Clinton last week signed the Year 2000 Readiness and Responsibility Act. HR 775 will offer some protections to computer vendors from lawsuits arising from date code problems.

Congressional leaders electronically signed and e-mailed the bill to Clinton on July 15, marking the first time a bill traveled from Capitol Hill to the White House via cyberspace.

'This is extraordinary, time-limited legislation designed to deal with an exceptional and unique circumstance of national significance'the Y2K computer problem,' Clinton said.

'In signing this legislation, I act in the belief and with the expectation that companies in the high technology sector and throughout the American economy are serious in their remediation efforts and that such efforts will continue,' he said.

The law will help screen out frivolous claims without blocking or unduly burdening legitimate suits, Clinton said.

'We will be watching to see whether the bill's provisions are misused by parties who did little or nothing to remediate in order to defeat claims brought by those harmed by irresponsible conduct,' he said.

By signing the bill electronically, lawmakers highlighted government efforts to use digital methods to construct legal documents, but Congress sent a hard copy to Clinton for his signature.

Online law

Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), president pro tempore of the Senate, signed an Adobe Portal Document Format version of the bill, which had passed 81-18 and 404-24 in the Senate and House, respectively. Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) clicked the send button.

The lawmakers' handwritten signatures were captured on a notebook computer equipped with a pressure sensitive tablet and pen stylus from Wacom Technology Corp. of Vancouver, Wash., and running electronic Signature Series software from PenOp Inc. of New York.

'The technology is still maturing,' said Kimberly Nelson, an Environmental Protection Agency project manager. But several elements have pushed the government toward implementing electronic signatures during the past three to four years, she added.

For example, EPA's Reinventing Environmental Information Action Plan committed her agency to study digital signatures and define an approach to electronic reporting, Nelson said. The agency's plans to create a new information technology office also pushed it toward electronic documents and signature technology, Nelson said.

The Government Paperwork Elimination Act also 'increases the urgency for agencies such as the EPA to adopt electronic signatures' because for the first time electronic signatures are given legal equivalency to physical copies with ink
signatures, Nelson said. That promotes acceptance for electronic regulatory filings, she said.

EPA since January has been conducting a pilot in seven New York Department of Environmental Conservation facilities to test electronic reporting and signature applications, Nelson said.

Adobe building blocks

EPA is testing Adobe Acrobat Exchange Forms 3.01 as the electronic document forms software, which is installed as a plug-in to a Web browser'either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer.

'Adobe has a strong history of representing the document accurately,' Nelson said. 'Adobe was also easy and reliable, and [from the] enforcement standpoint you have a reliability that a signature is bound to the document.'

A user needs only a PC with the appropriate software to submit compliance reports, said J. Todd Lewis, chief technology officer of Information Dynamics Inc. of McLean, Va., who is directing the pilot for EPA.

The EPA pilot is using ATS 2.1, a digital signature software using asymmetric cryptography from E-Lock Technologies of Fairfax, Va. The software is an Adobe plug-in. A Gem Safe 1.0 smart card reader from Gem Plus of Redwood City, Calif., is connected to a submitter's PC. The reader accepts a plastic card with an electronic chip that performs cryptographic calculations for the digital signatures, Lewis said.

EPA next month will begin testing PenOp 2.62 to analyze whether it fits the agency's needs, Nelson said. In September, the EPA plans to install PenOp at the pilot site, but EPA has no contractual obligations for its further use, she said.

During the pilot, PenOp Signature Series software will capture signatures using biometrics measurements and digital signature technology to process electronic documents. The 29 biometrics measurements are mathematical representations of how the signature was signed in terms of speed, stroke order, acceleration and pressure, PenOp chief executive officer Howard Schecter said.

Cryptography links the person, signature and document, ensuring that a signature cannot be copied or cut and pasted to another document, PenOp officials said.

PenOp's software also provides an audit trail of the signing for security.

A so-called ceremonial transcript provides details on who signed, what was signed, under what circumstances, when and for what purpose.

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