How Digital Signatures Reduce Legal Risk in Your Organization

Posted by John Harris on 8/6/12 3:51 PM

For the past few months, we’ve been exploring all of the various ways that digital signatures can provide an amazing return on investment, whether in costs, time, productivity, or most recently in the legal realm. Our last blog provided the eight key items to think about in any electronic signature solution, and now we’re going to focus in on digital signature technology, specifically that used by SIGNiX’s MyDoX digital signature service, to see why it offers superior legal defensibility when compared to both wet ink signatures as well as other e-signature technologies on the market.

Case law since the advent of ESIGN and UETA, as well as the evolution of electronic evidence, has clearly indicated the importance of a well-structured signature process which clearly shows (1) how the identity of the signer was established, (2) how the system tracked what the user did within the system, (3) how she viewed the documents, (4) how she indicated consent and intent to sign, and finally (5) how the signed documents were protected against tampering.

Wet ink signatures and scanned images of signatures on a document are simply outmatched in this digital age. They are typically only applied to one page in a document, leaving the others without any mark or way of showing that a document hasn’t been changed. They can be relatively easily copied and re-used.  They don’t positively identify the signer (think of a rubber signature stamp). And of course, paper processes cost time and lower productivity.

Digital signatures, on the other hand...

  • Directly embedded into the PDF to be signed
  • Tamper evident seal on every page of the document…not just one page. 
  • Software provides immediate feedback to changes to digitally signed documents.digital signature validation
  • Can leverage third party timestamps (eliminating the risk of manipulating the time of signature
  • Standards-based: non-proprietary, widely published and trusted internationally.
  • Human and machine readable. The signatures are clearly visible to the human eye on the document itself, where you expect the signatures to be, but are also represented digitally and are analyzed by the computer for integrity and authenticity.

This technology is not new, of course. However, traditional digital signatures relied on complex signature software and hardware to be installed, drivers to be maintained, and digital certificates to be procured, making it highly costly to implement despite the albeit great security features intended.

Digital signature services like those offered by SIGNiX hide the complexity, make it easy for signers to sign and eliminate the need to purchase software and hardware to make it all work. These services apply true, standards-based PDF digital signatures for every single signature and initial on a document, providing the integrity benefits of digital signatures, but also adding:

  • Easy, intuitive signing and document preparation via the web
  • Detailed proof of intent and consent tracking
  • Strong user authentication, to validate the identities of signers in a transaction
    digital signature audit log
  • Detailed audit trails and logs so that each transaction can be carefully tracked and described in minute detail. When did the user sign? When did the second signer authenticate? What documents did they look at? How did they consent to the use of electronic signatures?

No wet ink signature or ‘e-signature’ service can provide that level of detail or defensibility, when combined with the granular intent and content integrity described above.

And if you do business internationally, digital signatures provide significantly improved legal standing over other technologies, as they are preferred and clearly indicated by the EU Signature Directive as well as European standards like PDF Advanced Electronic Signatures (PAdES).

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