Approval Seen for Electronic Contracts

Article excerpt

The House is expected to approve a bipartisan bill today giving electronic contracts the same legal status as documents written on paper.

Banks, insurance companies and government agencies are likely to be among the first to abandon paper and embrace electronic contracts.

"Not everyone is implementing electronic contracts today, but they will," said Brian O'Higgins, chief technology officer at Plano, Texas-based Entrust Technologies Inc., which sells software to create digital signatures.

Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr., Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Commerce Committee, chaired the conference committee to reconcile House and Senate versions of electronic contract bills approved in November.

The joint conference committee completed that effort June 8, and the conference report has the support of the Clinton administration and the technology industry.

"This will inspire greater confidence in consumers and encourage the growth of electronic commerce. It will allow consumers and businesses to do a whole new host of transactions on line," Mr. Bliley said.

Digital documents could replace paper contracts for everything from mortgage refinancings to warranties for appliances.

Harris Simmons, chairman and chief executive of Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorporation, said his bank is preparing to issue digital signatures in a pilot electronic contract project.

"We think [electronic contracts] will be a fundamental element of e-commerce," Mr. Simmons said.

Zions Bancorporation will use the technology to let people apply for loans and sign loan agreements on line, Mr. Simmons said.

"There are all kinds of opportunities to streamline commerce," he said.

Terri Bolling, spokeswoman for Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, said the company has to look no further than the popularity of its Internet banking initiative to find evidence that consumers are willing to use electronic contracts.

"We're seeing a huge surge in the number of people wanting to do business on line," she said. …