When the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN) took effect in October 2000, it generated buzz about how digital signature technology might be used to streamline government processes.

Four years later, few jurisdictions have applied the technology in a significant manner.

Indiana is an exception. The state is testing a service that allows government records to be digitally signed, legally certified and delivered electronically by the state's Web portal.

The pilot, currently under way at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), uses the United States Postal Service's (USPS) Electronic Postmark, developed by AuthentiDate, and digital signatures from GeoTrust to simplify certification of driver records being admitted as evidence in court proceedings.

The state is the first in the nation to offer the USPS Electronic Postmark service in a state court system, said Candy Irven, general manager of accessIndiana, the state's Web portal.

Weeks to Minutes

The BMV pilot was launched in December 2003 and involved three counties. Today, the expanded service is available to county prosecutors in all 92 counties. Forty-nine of those counties actively use the online service through the state's portal, which is managed by Indiana Interactive, a subsidiary of NIC.

Before the online service was available, prosecutors waited up to six weeks for processing and mail delivery of certified driver records they requested. Today they search the BMV database for a driver record, which is attached to a digitally signed and sealed letter from the BMV commissioner. The document is then postmarked using the USPS Electronic Postmark and delivered electronically to the county prosecutor's office.

The record can then be used in court, saved for later use, or printed and filed with court proceedings.

"The electronic postmark identifies when a document is signed and verifies it," said Irven. "That allows us to go back later and verify that the contents of that document have not been changed, and that the signature is valid and was valid at the time of signing."

Creating Efficiency

Legislation recognizing the validity of electronic signatures already existed in Indiana, so rolling out the new service was fairly straightforward.

"We found a need for a digital signature, we found a technology that was easy to implement, and we had the ability to implement it quickly," Irven said. "It was also a technology that was simple, cost-effective, legally valid and flexible enough to accommodate various agency and business scenarios. We didn't want to do something that wasn't going to be used and was not going to create some kind of efficiency for somebody somewhere."

Though Indiana uses a self-funded model for all services developed through accessIndiana, the state still had to contend with how to pay for the digital signature. Every time a certified driver's license is requested, the state incurs a hard cost from the USPS. The state developed two scenarios for dealing with that cost.

"Since the BMV is going to benefit from this by not having to open the mail, sort it, pull a record, sign it, fold it back up, put it in an envelope, get it postmarked and get it back out the door, they decided it was in their best interest to just accept that cost," said Irven. "So the agency is paying 35 cents for each transaction -- less than the cost of a stamp. Going forward, we never want those on the agency side to pay more than the cost of a stamp for such a service."

Eventually the general public will use the system to request certified driver's license records as well. In that scenario, the state will revert to the traditional self-funded model, charging citizens $3 for electronic delivery of records.

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer