The Danger of Digital Contracts
The Danger of Digital Contracts
The electronic revolution, as applied to recorded obligations and contracts in the United States and other progressive countries, is expected to upgrade the state of information from a written form into digitized form. Such high-technology revolution as applied to recorded law and order, thus government regulation and protection, should translate to paramount advantages over the old written contracts. Academicians, businessmen and lawmakers are excited about all this legal transition into e-commerce, but if one looks closely into the future, its impact to American society will be measured not by its benefits to commerce but its major downsides.
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A significant issue is the fluidity of this concept called cyberspace. By that concept, we refer to an intangible “universe” of information in digitized form, commonly known as software. Information in this soft format is not fixed into the media, nor do the media hold the information firm as one written in stone. “Soft” information is fluid and unstable, such that it can be easily encoded and deleted, migrated and “reformed”. This makes digitized data more prone to change or interference from numerous possible agents, be they human or computer. When a contract transcends the written form into digital data, it leaves the safety of the “immutable” physical form as archivists call it.
The danger arises with the relative ease of altering the contents of the digitized contract. The “hacker nightmare” comes into play, when anyone of computer proficiency can alter contracts at whim without any oversight from a commendable social authority (government). The real point is about the challenge on state governments to regulate and execute the provisions of a digital contract, or establish its authenticity in the first place. A sensible U.S. citizen can only wonder how exactly the state/federal attorneys could determine forgeries from authentic contracts despite the easily alterable digital signatures.
Digitizing the binding documents can mean more freedom for the average computer-literate American to produce contracts and alter them easily, therefore more government control. Ensuring protection from the provision of a contract demands more effort from government to regulate digital contract creation if it wants to maintain commercial contract law and order. The expected impact to American commerce is a more totalitarian and intrusive approach from government in the creation of software. Advocates of digital contracts and e-commerce may consider tolerating a blanket state control over the creation, signature and execution of all forms of contracts in soft format whether they are wills and codicils or mortgage papers and financial statements.
Moving recorded information into the realm of digitized form entails a new age of government protection for both contract parties and e-commerce consumers. An electronic economy dependent on digital signatures for authority will have to get used to state oversight that will regulate all digital traffic to prevent forgeries and alternations of contracts.
Brothman, B. (2004). Afterglow: Conceptions of Records as Evidence. Archival Science. Volume 2.
Knapp, A. (2007). New Challenges Facing Academic Librarians Today: Electronic Journals, Archival Digitization, Document Delivery, etc. Journal of Scholarly Publishing. Volume 38. 112-116.