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Re: Press Release on Barrier to Participation in the Digital Economy Raised by New Digital Signature Law

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>
Date: Tue, 4 Jul 2000 02:35:22 -0400 (EDT)
To: Icdri <icdri@icdri.org>
cc: WAI IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.20.0007040212000.3412-100000@tux.w3.org>
The following are personal thoughts, and do not represent the position of
anyone but me (and even that depends on how well I write it...). And I am not
a lawyer, nor a US citizen (although I have read the Digital Signatures Bill
draft that was to be presented for signature by the president), so this is
not expert advice, just interested opinion.

It seems to me that this is a legal issue of how various laws work
together. In my ideal world, a law on digital signatures would not say
anything about accessibility requirements, only about the technical
requirements that the signature was based on a true representation of what
was being signed. I would expect the requirement that such a representation
was accessible to be covered by another law, one that required that
everything is accessible.

In practise, I believe that this is how the US laws will work - the Digital
signature bill covers the requirement that somebody knows what they are
signing, and the Americans with Disabilities Act covers (more or less, but
that is a seperate issue to me) the requirement that Americans with
disabilities have access to the things they need to participate in society to
the greatest extent possible, including the ability to enter into

In fact I think that the digital signature law provides this. I
presume there is contract law which invalidates contracts entered into where
part of the contract was not known because it is printed in microtype, or
relied on somebody not being colourblind, or whatever. I know that there is
such law in Australia. 

So the three laws work together - the ADA (or local equivalent) requires that
the contract is available to a person with a disability, the digital
signature law requires that what is presented for signature is a true
representation of the contract being entered into, and further contract law
provides that if this was not the case then the contract is not binding (and
specifies what to do next). Note also that this is about both statute law
(bills passed by the government) and case law (precedents set when a court
makes an actual decision, that is subsequently used as a guide in similar

I think that mixing the requirements together in the various bills makes it
more confusing, although it is the job of the various players to make sure
that they understand which different requirements apply to a particular
situation and how they interact. In particular, it seems to me better that a
law stating that contracts entered into and acknowledged by a digital
signature (as well as an ink-on-paper signature) not specify broader
requirements of Web accessibility, since that should be covered by law
dealing specifically with accessibility.

There is, of course, the possibility of getting a requirement into one law
that effectively upgrades what is specified by other laws. Pragmatically it
can be an easy path to getting things into statute, but it also opens up
procedural nightmares by over-complicating the situation. In my limited
understanding, this case does not provide a compelling reason to do so.

(I apologise for the length of this posting. I also suspect that the topic
is only tangentially relevant to this list, although it is interesting and is
part of looking at what happens in the real world - which is where we
ultimately have to solve the problems <grin/>)


Charles McCN

On Mon, 3 Jul 2000, Icdri wrote:

   I have been asked to forward this statement to the list for those who would
  be interested.
  Mike Burks
  The statement below concerns the New Digital Signature bill signed into law
  last Friday by President Clinton.  It has the potential to raise significant
  barriers to both people with disabilities and those with alternate access
  devices.  It should be noted that some analysts feel that in the near future
  most web access will occur using these types of devices. As the law stands
  now there is a very good chance that the Digital Divide between people with
  disabilities and electronic and information technology will widen
  considerably and in addition people using alternate access devices, to the
  Internet will be at risk as well.
  For further information on this issue please read the commentary by Cynthia
  Waddell to be found at:
  http://www.icdri.org/questions_about_electronic_signa.htm .
  Those organizations both US and International who wish to support this
  position should consider issuing a public statement, and those within the US
  might wish to  contact their elected representatives in Congress.  Please
  email your statements to: mailto:icdri@icdri.org and ICDRI will forward them
  to the Internet Society and will post them on their web site to be found at
  Please forward this message to whomever would be interested in this
  Bob Cline
  Director of Technology
  ICDRI  in Support of ISOC/ISTF Position on Digital Signature Law
  The International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet is in full
  support of the statement below. Please note that the shortcomings of this
  law will also effect those using alternate Internet access devices such as
  cellular phones and  PDAs.
  Landmark U.S. Digital Signature Legislation Falls Short with Regard to
  Persons with Disabilities
  Washington, D.C.; July 3, 2000 - While praising passage of the Electronic
  Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (S761) by the U. S. Congress
  as a significant step forward in many areas, the Internet Societal Task
  Force (ISTF) and its parent organization, the Internet Society (ISOC), have
  expressed concern that the legislation does not adequately take into account
  the needs of persons with disabilities.
  The issues involved are not only limited to persons with disabilities, but
  may have an adverse impact on those people using alternate Internet access
  devices such as cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).
  Cynthia Waddell of the International Center for Disability Resources
  <http://www.icdri.org/> and a leading member of the ISTF states: "For a
  person with a visual disability to access an electronic contract, the
  document needs to be coded for accessible web design when it is created. It
  would do well to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines posted by
  the W3C at <http://www.w3.org/WAI>."
  Persons with visual impairments are at a disadvantage if a contract is not
  properly encoded. In some cases, they may not be able to take advantage of
  the benefits of digital signatures as a means to enhance the conduct of
  business and commerce using the Internet. They also run the risk of entering
  into a legal and enforceable contract that they may not able to fully
  comprehend. More alarming, these consumers may not realize that they are
  unable to read portions of the contract.
  "We commend the U.S. Congress for this further recognition of, and support
  for, the importance of the Internet in conducting day to day business," said
  Don Heath, President and CEO of the Internet Society. He added, "However, if
  the Bill were to be amended to embrace accessible web design so that the
  widest audience of consumers could benefit from electronic contracts, it
  would result in a huge benefit for the disabled around the world, and put
  the U.S. in a clear leadership position in this area. Likewise, we hope that
  future laws in this venue address accessibility issues before they are
  About ISOC/ISTF:
  The Internet Society (ISOC) <http://www.isoc.org> is a professional
  membership society with organizational and individual members in over 170
  countries. It provides leadership in addressing issues that confront the
  future of the Internet, and is the organization home for the groups
  responsible for Internet infrastructure standards, including the Internet
  Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and
  the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF).
  The Internet Society is dedicated to ensuring the open evolution,
  development and use of the Internet for the benefit of all peoples of the
  world, and to this end assumes a leadership role in developing and
  disseminating Internet policy on technical and societal issues worldwide,
  providing Internet education and training, and striving to represent the
  best interests of the Internet and its users. A network of Chapters in 60
  countries (with many more in formation) supports the work of the global
  The Internet Societal Task Force (ISTF) <http://www.istf.org> is an open
  organization of people who are committed to furthering the mission of the
  Internet Society (ISOC) and work to identify ways in which the Internet can
  be a positive force in social and economic dimensions.
  Michael Burks
  Internet Societal Task Force
  5212 Covington Bend Drive,
  Raleigh, NC 27613 USA
  Tel: +1 919 870 8788
  Email: mburks952@worldnet.att.net
  Lance Laack
  International Policy Coordinator
  Internet Society
  11150 Sunset Hills Road
  Suite 100
  Reston, VA 20190-5321
  Tel: +1 703 326 9880
  Fax: +1 703 326 9881
  4, rue des Falaises
  CH-1205 Geneva
  Tel: +41 22 807 1444
  Fax: +41 22 807 1445
  Email: lance@isoc.org
  # # # # # # # # #

Charles McCathieNevile    mailto:charles@w3.org    phone: +61 (0) 409 134 136
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative                      http://www.w3.org/WAI
Location: I-cubed, 110 Victoria Street, Carlton VIC 3053
Postal: GPO Box 2476V, Melbourne 3001,  Australia 
Received on Tuesday, 4 July 2000 02:35:26 UTC

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