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[Discuss] need to set up fax-mail system

2011/8/29 Kent Borg <kentborg at>

> Shirley M?rquez D?lcey wrote:
>> And an absurd one in an age when a lot of faxes are sent from computers. A
>> fax is actually easier to forge than a digital document because of its
>> relatively low resolution; it's trivial to pass off a Photoshopped document
>> as an original fax scan. Yet another case of the law not keeping up with
>> technical reality.
> I think we are missing a point here.  The fax itself is not thought by
> legal beagles to be some high-security, unforgeable thing.  Rather I think
> it is more a record of a communication.
> An oral contract is *just* a binding as a written version on parchment with
> tons of seals and signatures and witnesses.  The difference is the written
> contract has a better record (what are the particulars: how many widgets to
> be delivered on what date for what price with what penalty provisions for
> being late), and the parchment version is also harder to repudiate (yes, he
> signed it).  If the particulars of the oral contract are not in dispute,
> then the written version is no better.  Both might still go to court to
> argue about it.
> A legal fax I think is most valuable as a way to pin down the particulars.
>  I don't think the idea is to prevent forgery.  When you have an ongoing
> business relationship with someone the opportunities for forgery are
> slim--it breaks the continuity of the communications.  We don't tend to use
> faxes for one-off transactions with strangers, we meet in person and use
> cash when buying a soda-pop from a street vendor.  Or use well-known
> middlemen when spending a lot of money on, say, a house.
> Long ago I once heard of an annoying HR person insisting that someone fax
> the original and not a copy.  The nerd who received the instruction thought
> it silly and I agreed at the time, but on reflection, I am sympathetic to
> the silly insistence.  I guess an aspect of that transaction is that the
> person sending it is attesting that "Yes, in lieu physically delivering this
> document to you, I attest that I have the original in my grubby little hand,
> I am putting it in the fax machine, the version you are about to get out the
> other side reflects the appearance of the original that I have in my hand.".
>  This attestation also flushes out little corner cases such as "Well, that
> document never had a physical existence before I sent it, I actually have
> several versions floating around on my disk, I can't be sure I e-mailed the
> one I intended to e-mail."  If using a fax instead of an e-mail saves me
> making a long drive there and back, during business hours...that seems a
> reasonable trade-off.  Yes, I might fax incorrect stuff, and I might put
> incorrect stuff on the form I hand over in person.  But I am probably trying
> to get my damn insurance reimbursement straightened out, I'm not
> masterminding a $194.19 heist.  Were I to fax for reimbursement for
> $194,000,000.00 to be payable to cash and sent to an address they don't have
> on record...neither the fax nor a physical form ("Blanks are over there on
> that wall.") is going to be good enough.
> Faxes pin down specifics.  One of the key features that the law has relied
> upon is that "to fax" has largely been a pretty clear verb with a pretty
> well understood meaning.
> The crude, stupid, lumbering, brain-dead properties of a fax are a feature
> in this case: People know what a fax is.  The more that we set up clever fax
> systems with fancy storage and pre/post editing features...the more the
> legal system will notice and start to worry over the value of faxes.  But a
> fax is a way of sending unambiguous information, being a stupid old
> technology helps keep it unambiguous.  If the only people using faxes are
> bureaucrats, and if they refuse to buy fax systems with features that erode
> the clarity (stupidity) of faxes, faxes might stay with us for many years
> just to keep lawyers happy.
> You might say e-mail is pretty unambiguous, and you have a point, providing
> the definition of e-mail stays stable (and maybe stupid and crude and
> brain-dead).  Start conversing with someone on Google Plus, however, and the
> fundamental properties start to get vague.  (Do young people even use e-mail
> other than for formal things that some institution insists upon?  Kinda like
> faxes??)  Heck even gmail doesn't always seem to have stable properties,
> what I think is an e-mail they think is part of a living conversation tread,
> and at least on my Android phone, what looks like a specific e-mail doesn't
> seem to have a write-once unchanging property.  I haven't pinned down what
> they are doing, but Google seems to be making it fancier.  Start adding
> features like that to a fancy fax system and lawyers would be well advised
> to stay away from it.
> The law hates chaos.  They won't be much comforted by "But Google shouldn't
> have done that, that's not what e-mail is!".
> The law does a lot of silly things, but it isn't always a silly as a
> civilian might think at first glance.
> -kb, the Kent who is a civilian.
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There have been times where when dealing with financial transactions in the
past, like my mortgage, where they accepted the fax as my acknowledgement
that I wanted it signed on that day, but they required the hard copy be
fedex'd, UPS'd or mailed with signature confirmation.  The act of sending
the fax was more of a confirmation that I wanted to execute my rights at
that point in time to fix my interest rate.  The sending of the hard copy
was needed for legal purposes.

Personally, I'm one of those ones that would prefer the whole fax technology
die.  I wouldn't call myself a hugh "save the earth" green type person, but
the you have to admit quite a lot of paper is wasted.  First the person
prints out what they want your to sign and faxes it to you where you print
out and sign it, then you fax it back where it's usually printed out yet

It would be better to come up with a standard way of digitally signing your
document as an acknowledgement.  I know there are already ways you can do
this, but there is not one standard.  Not to mention that most companies do
not accept it as a signature.

Matthew Shields
BeanTown Host - Web Hosting, Domain Names, Dedicated Servers, Colocation,
Managed Services

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