Friday, May 30, 2008

 

Post-It "Signatures" Aren’t Signatures

On any given day I use credit cards, write checks, request reimbursements, approve time sheets, or complete this or that form. Each of these activities requires me to sign a paper document. When transactions and requests like these are moved online, I no longer sign with pen on paper, but I still am required to produce an electronic signature, perhaps literally with a stylus of some sort or analogically with a login and password. The point is the same – I need to provide irrevocable proof that I am who I claim to be when I authorize some action to be taken on my behalf.

That's why I was astonished this week to read this week (in a 27 May 2008 NY Times article by Carter Dougherty titled "Ex-manager tells of bribery at Siemens") about the scheme allegedly used to approve bribe payments. Over 1.3 billion euros worth of suspicious transactions over the past seven years have been identified (for those of you who haven't been following the collapse of the dollar's value, that's 2.1 billion US). And according to Reinhard Siekaczek, a former Siemens middle manager who faces 58 charges of "breach of trust" and is cooperating with prosecutors, he built up "slush funds" by paying for bogus consulting charges so that bribe payments could be made to win contracts.

But the role of Post-Its in the bribery process defies logic. People signed Post-Its and attached them to the documents needed to carry out the bribes, That way, according to Siekaczek:

The signatories could elegantly remove signs of their involvement if it came to an investigation.

Now I know that languages are living things, and concepts continually evolve. That's why we recognize that a "signature" no longer assumes a quill pen and inkwell, but can also be performed with a ballpoint pen or electronic stylus. But I think that an intrinsic part of any notion of "signature" is that signatures are intended to be permanently embedded or affixed to the documents being signed. There is just no way that anyone at Siemens who ever signed a Post-It could rationalize that this was an appropriate mechanism for authorizing or recording a business transaction, especially one involving such significant amounts of money.

Unless, of course, they had been informed of a new policy at Siemens that established Post-It signatures as equivalent to traditional ones. Given the 270 suspects that prosecutors have identified, including four former members of the top executive group, this new policy would have had to come from high up in Siemens. Would the document describing this new policy have been signed with a Post-It?

-Bob Glushko

Comments:
i so totally agree with you! glad you made sence of that...
 
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