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House to vote on e-signature bill

Capitol Hill lawmakers are expected to vote on the controversial bill that would give electronic contracts the same status as their print counterparts.

WASHINGTON--Capitol Hill lawmakers tomorrow are expected to vote on a controversial bill that would give electronic contracts the same status as their print counterparts.

After months of haggling, House and Senate members last week reached a compromise on the electronic signatures bill, which is expected to face a full House vote tomorrow.

Sources close to the House said there is widespread bipartisan support for the bill, which House Commerce Committee chairman Thomas Bliley, R-Va., has characterized as essential for ensuring the success of e-commerce.

If signed into law, the legislation would allow a wide range of electronic transactions using electronic signatures for authentication. The bill would legitimize anything from an email response to authentication using digital signatures.

The term "electronic signature" should not be confused with ?digital signature.? Digital signatures rely on encrypted algorithms, which must be used with a single password to identify an individual. The password uses specialized software to lock, or encrypt, the signature, which a freely given public key--or second password--can open. The bill supports both encrypted and non-encrypted authentication.

On Thursday, a committee meeting ended months of controversy surrounding the legislation, which Democrats had attacked for offering consumers too little protection and instead serving the interests of businesses.

The vote is a significant turnaround, after an earlier effort ran aground following Democratic opposition and resistance from the White House.

President Clinton is expected to sign the current version of the bill. The Senate passed its version of the bill last year.

If the bill, also known as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, is passed and signed into law, it would bring to the federal level statutes that many states have already adopted. The federal law would be more sweeping than many states' laws, allowing a wide range of electronic transactions between the government and the public, among businesses, and between businesses and consumers.