It’s Time for a Digital Transformation from Cradle to Grave (Industry Perspective)

If we can trust our digital Benjamins, we should be able to trust digital birth and death certificates.

by Brad Brooks / October 21, 2015

It’s been said there’s nothing certain in life except death and taxes. But in some states, apparently, it’s just taxes — now that a special type of secure paper required for birth and death certificates is in short supply.

Secure paper, you say? In 2015?

Indeed. Birth and death certificates in about a dozen states — South Carolina, Wyoming and Kentucky among them — require a specific physical signature from the authorizing agency, printed in a highly specialized way on special security-enabled paper that, when photocopied, creates shadows to clearly indicate the copy is not an original. And that paper is suddenly in short supply after the only U.S. firm still making it closed abruptly this summer.

That’s left states scrambling to ration copies of vital records. In California, The San Francisco Chronicle reports that counties are trying to source the paper through a Canadian company. And state legislators are likely to take up the issue in the quest for a more permanent answer. Which leads me to the obvious: With the vast majority of our lives going digital — from hailing a rider with Uber and jotting down notes with Evernote to communicating with friends via Facebook — it’s time for us to make the digital transformation, literally from cradle to grave with digital birth and death certificates.

A highly secure eSignature solution should obviously be part of that discussion.

Widespread adoption among states of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) and passage of the federal ESIGN (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce) Act in 2000 have long-solidified the legal landscape for use of electronic records and electronic signatures in commerce, and could certainly be applied to these vital records.

The general concept of e-signature laws is that a signature, contract or other record related to a transaction can’t be denied legal enforceability just because it is in electronic form.

There’s a little more to it than that, of course. In order to qualify as an electronic signature under ESIGN and UETA, the system behind the electronic transaction must keep an associated record reflecting the process or make a textual or graphic statement that is added to the signed record, reflecting the fact that it was executed with an electronic signature. Essentially, the signature process must provide enough proof to uphold the transaction — an audit trail.

Remarkably the California law requires some vital records to be printed on special paper that uses, among other things, a centuries-old technique called “intaglio” printing — which is used today in fine printing processes like etchings and in currency printing.

In our digital world, paper cash has been in steady decline. We can pay for things online or with our phones via ApplePay, Google Android Pay or Samsung Pay. If we can trust our digital Benjamins, we should be able to trust digital birth and death certificates.

Indeed, government agencies of all sizes are transitioning to Digital Transaction Management at a rapid pace, including the district attorney’s office in Butte County, Calif., which is expediting search warrants with e-signature, and the state of North Carolina, which is digitizing across government agencies. Uses include document intensive tasks like compliance and permitting processes, inspections and audits. Much of the move to digital can be attributed to the ease of use, speed and security inherent in Digital Transaction Management that makes it easier and faster for the end user while instilling trust and confidence in the transaction for all parties involved.

Rather than searching through your files at home or visiting your financial institution to fish your birth certificate out of a safe-deposit box, you could simply click your mouse or swipe your finger on your phone to securely access and share these documents in the cloud. With a secure digital solution, recipients could see that the document is genuine, that it hasn’t been tampered with, and that the signatures are indeed authentic.

Similarly, when multiple copies of a death certificate are required to close accounts and fast-forward lengthy probate processes, secure digital copies that avoid the pitfalls of the current paper system — including security, privacy and authenticity concerns, not to mention a limited supply of the paper itself — would prove beneficial for all.

It’s time to complete the circle of life — in the digital age.

Brad Brooks is the chief marketing officer at DocuSign, where he is responsible for directing the company’s marketing strategy, including brand, corporate communications, advertising, public and analyst relations, demand generation, and product, partner, and field marketing, along with DocuSign's presence on the Web and in social channels. He has more than 25 years of global business leadership experience at enterprise and consumer technology companies.

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