How Must Our Logs Be Signed?
July 19, 2011
Interestingly, this recurring question keeps popping up, several times this past week alone. It seems to result from what may turn out to be one of the great myths in broadcasting; that FCC rules require that the station log be signed in wet ink only ... and that it must be blue ink. Here are some actual questions I've received lately:
* Our operators maintain our log on a computer. Can I simply use the computer records, or do I need to print them out in paper, have them signed and then produce the paper copy when asked for it?
* Our operators maintain our log on a computer and sign a separate affidavit when they come on shift and go off shift. Is this needed or can they initial the entries on the log and then have an Affidavit matching the initials to the persons signature?
* Must the Chief Operator physically sign the station log making when reviewed or can he type his name or initials and provide an affidavit matching the initials to the his signature?
* We've been having some trouble confirming an FCC requirement that logs be signed using only black or blue ink. Is that true?
So a little research revealed that there is no substance to the myths and rumors behind these questions. Engineers, relax!
Section 73.1820(a) of the rules permits the logs to be prepared by electronic means with automatic entries. Since this is an explicit recognition of computerized logging equipment, and since other sections of the rules, e.g. the Local Public File rule, permit maintaining files by electronic storage so long as a reader is available for anyone entitled to access them, it is clear that the FCC sanctions maintaining the station log by electronic means. Nothing more is said about the manner of the signature, so normal evidence rules would simply require that the signature could be by any means where its authenticity could be proven.
Moreover, there is no specific rule dealing with the manner of signature. Since an operator is permitted to use electronic record-keeping, it is logical that he could designate a verifiable method for electronic signature. The key would be that he must be able to demonstrate that the signature, by whatever method, may be entered only by the intentional act of the authorized person and only after verifying that the required actions have been performed. That the federal government, and the FCC specifically, is ready to accept electronic signature has been demonstrated in several ways. Over a decade ago the Electronic Signatures Act (Public Law No: 106-229) was enacted and became effective on October 1, 2000. The Electronic Signatures Act affords electronic contracts the same weight as those executed on paper. Indeed, President Clinton signed in electronically. The act specifically states that it does not limit or supersede any requirement by a Federal or State regulatory agency, but since there are none in the FCC rules, Congress' recognition of the effectiveness of electronic signatures, should support its use for FCC log purposes.
A search of the FCC regulations, policy documents and cases confirms that the FCC has not spoken to this topic in a way that would invoke the limitations of the Electronic Signatures Act respecting broadcast station logs. Moreover, in the maritime service the commission specifically permitted maintaining station logs by electronic signature and electronic signatures are permitted for filing most broadcasting FCC applications. So the conclusion that electronic signatures are permitted is further supported by these rules.
Moving back to signatures signed in hand, there is also a perception that the station logs must be signed in blue ink. Others believe it has to be black. Here, too, there is no such FCC rule and the important factor is, again, the evidentiary consideration that the logs signature be signed in any manner that shows that it is an actual, verifiable signature.
This column is provided for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice pertaining to any specific factual situation. Legal decisions should be made only after proper consultation with a legal professional of your choosing.