Recently, the advantages of electronic signatures have gradually emerged. An electronic signature not only saves the cost of paper printing and express delivery, but also greatly improves the signing and delivery efficiency of documents, making the use and management of seals more compliant and safer with the simplification of the storage and search of documents. As the use of electronic signatures is related to users' major rights and obligations, it must be legal and reliable. What’s more, only a reliable electronic signature has the same legal effect as a handwritten signature or seal. So, is the electronic signature that we usually use reliable? Is it really in line with the law? Will it be admissible in court?
To help, we have pulled together a rundown of some need-to-know basis on the electronic signature and its legality. Moreover, you should consult lawyers for professional advice. We are here with the sincere hope to offer you a quick guide in details.
The difference between eSignatures and handwritten signatures
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A handwritten signature is a traditional way of signing a document by putting pen to paper, which indicates the signer’s agreement to the signed documents or contracts. However, in an increasingly digital world, electronic signatures have become more and more important. An electronic signature is a digitized version of the handwritten ones. It’s usually applied in online or digital documents with no need of printing or scanning. And whether your electronic signatures will be legally binding or not depends on various factors analyzed next.
The legality of electronic signatures
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Maybe some of you are still confused about the legality of electronic signatures. Actually, the short answer is “absolutely”. Electronic signatures are legally binding among thirty European countries, the United States and the vast majority of countries around the world. A reliable electronic signature has legal power equal to the traditional handwritten ones.
In point of fact, an electronic signature should have the following three elements in most countries:
Able to perform identity verification to ensure who has signed the documents
Able to clarify the contents of the document and the intentions of both parties. If the contract is changed before it is signed, the new wording will become the new contract offer. If more than one party is invited to sign the document, the contract will only be signed when all have signed it - when they agree on what they have in common.
Able to verify the integrity of the signed document. This means that after a document has been signed by both parties, it must remain intact and not be modified or altered. When the integrity of the document is protected, any changes to the electronic signature after signing can be detected, even if minor changes are made in the document.
As mentioned above, electronic signatures are legally valid in most countries. But if you're doing international business, it's a good idea to check the rules and regulations of your region or country first. For example, some commonly referred to regulations such as the Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 on Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions, commonly known as eIDAS; and the UETA: Uniform Electronic Transactions Act applied by the United States of America. It is essential to refer to the legal regulations first to verify the validity of the e-Signatures.
Different types of eSignatures
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There are three types of eSignatures according to the eIDAS Regulation:
SES (Simple Electronic Signature) - It could be as simple as a tick box or even just writing your name on an email. In such circumstances, it is not possible to determine the legal value of the signature without evaluating the method and security applied in the specific case.
AdES (Advanced Electronic Signature) - A kind of e-Signature that can be uniquely linked to the signatory, capable of identifying the signatory; usually created using electronic signature creation data and often linked to the data signed in a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable.
QES (Qualified Electronic Signature) - An advanced electronic signature that is created by a qualified electronic signature creation device and based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures. This type of signature is considered to be the most secure, offering data that proves the identity of the signer.
All in all, electronic signature technology, as an important embodiment of the paperless office, really improves the efficiency of signing all kinds of documents and saves a lot. There is no doubt that a reliable electronic signature is legally valid, but the thing that really matters is the word "reliable" and the requirements behind it. Therefore, while choosing electronic signature tools, you must sharpen your eyes and find the one that fits you best.