Sometimes it's useful to sign data to ensure the user does not tamper with it - for example, cookies or hidden form variables. SHA1 is cryptographically secure but weighs in at 40 characters, which is pretty long if you're going to be passing the data around in a URL or a cookie.
These functions knock an SHA1 hash down to just 27 characters, thanks to a base65 encoding that only uses URL-safe characters (defined as characters which are unmodified by Python's urllib.urlencode function). This compressed hash can then be passed around in cookies or URLs, and uncompressed again when the signature needs to be checked.
UPDATE: You probably shouldn't use this; see http://fi.am/entry/urlsafe-base64-encodingdecoding-in-two-lines/ for a smarter approach based on Python's built-in base64 module.