Digital signatures enhance the ability of contracting parties to authenticate electronic communication. Sophisticated encryption and decryption technology is used to verify the identity of the other party to the electronic transaction. Digital signature law, necessary for adjudication of disputes between parties in e-commerce, is still in its infancy. This article covers basic digital signature law of the United Nations, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The United Nations’ Model Law of Electronic Commerce of 1996 (“MLEC”) had many implications. The MLEC approved the utilization of electronic signatures, stated that electronic signatures would have the same legal impact as an ink signature, and remained technologically-neutral, i.e., did not mandate the utilization of any specific type of technology.

The admissibility of “advanced” electronic signatures in legal proceedings and seemed to favor the more sophisticated technologies such as public-key-infrastructure (“PKI”). Utilization of PKI would provide the ultimate in digital signature security.

The United Kingdom enacted the Electronic Communications Act in 2000. The Act recognized the validity of electronic signatures and affirmed their admissibility as evidence in court. Furthermore, the United Kingdom’s Electronic Signatures Regulations went into force in 2002. The purpose of the regulations was to implement certain provisions of the European Union’s E-Signatures Directive. However, the United Kingdom remained technologically-neutral.

In the 1990s, most states in the United States adopted some form of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which mandates broad recognition of electronic signatures. In order to achieve more uniformity in the laws of the states, the United States. federal government enacted “E- Sign” in 2000, which preempted all existing state law unless it was the original form of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act. Unfortunately, United States jurisdictions now have a “patchwork quilt” of dissimilar law regarding digital signatures. The United States is technologically-neutral.

The article concludes with recommendations for improvement of digital signature laws.

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