e-Signature Security Speeds Government Paperwork Along

September 11, 2017
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2 min read

As public administrators have learned, efficiency in government is largely a matter of executing the small things well. A saved mailing expense or avoided delay can add up to a lot more work for a lot less tax money, which is one practical definition of good government in action.

One example of this process is a current U.S. Census Bureau initiative to implement e-signature technology in its internal personnel evaluation system. By eliminating the need to send and handle physical documents with handwritten signatures, according to FedScoop, the initiative is expected to save $1.2 million annually, not including the savings in time and general convenience due to greater speed and fewer complications.

Signing on the Dotted Line

An electronic signature, or e-signature, serves the same purpose as a traditional handwritten signature on a document. It provides legal and practical proof that the person signing a document did, in fact, read or write it and that the document presented is the same as the document signed. In short, a signature functions to authenticate a document.

A traditional holograph signature provides this assurance implicitly, based on the notion that written signatures are difficult to forge convincingly. On the flip side, it is difficult for a person to persuasively disavow his or her own signature on a document. An e-signature performs this authentication function not by relying on hard-to-imitate handwriting characteristics, but by recording some other authentication process or action that would be difficult to imitate, hack or disavow.

According to American City and County, an effective authentication system provides two other related functions. It must provide evidence of tampering if the document has been manipulated subsequent to being signed and an audit trail to validate the history of the document.

Simplifying the e-Signature Flow Process

In principle, authentication methods can cover a broad range of techniques extending from relatively simple (and vulnerable) methods such as email confirmation to more complex and highly secure tools. These more secure methods include private encryption keys and knowledge-based authentication (KBA), in which a signer must correctly answer questions based on 30 years of public records.

As early as 1999, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) established a framework that allowed for e-signatures and their verification. In 2000, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act allowed for the use of e-signatures in domestic and international commerce.

The practical effect of this authentication technology, according to the Census Bureau initiative, is to eliminate the frictional drag associated with having to physically transport and handle multiple documents that must bear employee signatures. The agency’s internal personnel evaluation process, like most such evaluation systems, involves a large volume of digital documents that must be authenticated, and the savings are estimated at $5 for each physical signature that is replaced by an e-signature.

“There is no single technology driving the digital transformation initiative — it’s about the convergence of multiple technologies and scalable solutions,” said Tommy Petrogiannis, president of e-signature vendor eSignLive, according to MeriTalk. This is an excellent description of how technology enhances efficiency in government.

Rick M Robinson

Rick Robinson is a writer and blogger, with a current 'day job' focus on the tech industry and a particular interest in the interplay of tech-driven factors ...
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