The world is going digital and some governments are, finally, starting to see the value of paperless documents. From California to the European Union, new laws are being either implemented or removed to streamline processes that make it easier for people to use paperless documents.

California governor Jerry Brown recently signed two such laws.

Assembly Bill 2296 clarifies the distinction between “electronic signatures,” which are simply an electronic version of a signature, and “digital signatures,” which are more secure but harder to use because they require more identification.

It’s an important differentiation that many people aren’t aware of. “Though the two terms may seem interchangeable, they actually represent two very different methods of electronic identity verification — an electronic signature consists of a symbol signifying that a person is agreeing to sign a document, while a digital signature joins that symbol together with a secure certificate verifying the identity of the signer,” writes Alex Koma in StateScoop.

While California lawmakers passed legislation in both 1995 and 1999 to allow agencies to start using these techniques, the exact language of those laws conflicted a bit and needs some clarification, Koma explains. The 1999 Uniform Electronic Transactions Act left some California towns, cities, and government agencies under the impression that they could only use digital signatures, he writes. The bill passed with little dissent.

In addition, Governor Brown signed A.B. 1867, which allows courts to use electronic copies or scans of existing, hard copies of certified prior conviction records. While previously courts could send certified prior conviction records electronically, the document had to have been “born digital,” or initially prepared electronically with electronic signatures or watermarks, according to the Highland Community News. “For most courts, this is not a feasible option because most records they possess are in an original hard-copy format,” the paper writes. The new law, which passed the Assembly with even less dissent, will take effect on January 1, 2017 and will let courts scan and use these records electronically, provided that they contain a seal or some other method to ensure authenticity, the paper adds

Some states are even implementing “remote notarization,” or the ability for people to notarize documents over the Internet without having to meet with a notary public in person, writes Suzanne Barlyn for Reuters. Such efforts make it easier for people in other states or countries to buy real estate and complete other financial transactions.

“Lenders have long recognized notarization as a critical anti-fraud measure. But the practice – which dates back at least to Ancient Rome – is becoming passé in an era of FaceTime, Skype and live-streamed social media,” Barlyn writes. “The financial industry is pressing for change in the form of ‘remote notarization,’” which uses secure webcams to link borrowers and notary publics. But adoption has been limited because a patchwork of laws in most states does not allow for the practice, and city and county governments are slow to change.” So far, only Virginia and Montana explicitly allow it, while Maryland and Texas are considering it, she writes.

Meanwhile, the EU passed paperless document laws in August, 2015, to make paperless document laws more streamlined and uniform among the 28 member countries. Those paperless document laws took effect on July 1. “The regulation has two components,” writes Bloomberg BNA. “It makes electronic identification (e-IDs) cards and e-ID numbers interchangeable throughout the EU, and it creates a private-sector market for so-called ‘trust services’ online.”

“E-IDs should make it possible to allow citizens from one EU country to conduct business in another online without having to send in notarized documents or copies of national ID cards or passports,” Bloomberg writes. “The EU hopes the private sector component will make it easier for EU citizens to open bank accounts, establish insurance policies, submit tax returns, age verification and verify age online.”

With influential governments like California and the EU initiating such laws, it won’t be surprising to see other states and countries follow suit. And who can blame them? Nobody likes sorting through paperwork!


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