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House overwhelmingly passes e-signature measure

The U.S. House of Representatives passes the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, which gives electronic signatures and documents the same legal standing as their physical counterparts.

Electronic signatures may soon have the same force as those of pen on paper.

The U.S. House of Representatives today overwhelmingly passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, which gives electronic signatures and documents the same legal standing as their physical counterparts. The bill must be passed by the Senate and signed by the president before it becomes law.

"(This bill) is about the future," said Rep. Tom Bliley, R-Va., who chairs the House Commerce Committee. "It is about laying the legal foundation of electronic commerce for many years to come."

Currently, consumers who go online to apply for a mortgage or set up a brokerage account have to complete the transactions offline, through signed paper documents. Under the bill passed today, those transactions could now be completed entirely online.

The House passed the bill on a vote of 426-4. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., and three Republicans--Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, Ron Paul of Texas and Bob Stump of Arizona--voted against the bill.

Despite the large majority in favor of the bill, Democrats and Republicans did not resolve differences over key portions of it until last week. Democrats and the Clinton administration had worried about protecting consumers and ensuring that those without access to computers would still be able to get written forms.

The American Electronics Association (AEA) praised the passage of the bill, calling it one of the group's "top priorities."

"High-tech companies now conduct a substantial and fast-growing amount of business online," AEA president William Archey said in a statement. "To continue the robust growth of online commerce, these companies absolutely need an atmosphere of legal certainty."