Digital Signatures – What’s the difference? BY Bryan Reaves, CTO

Digital/electronic signatures …. you hear the term with some frequency today, but how do you distinguish between the forms these signatures may take? Although we don’t want to veer into the territory of providing legal analysis or advice on this blog (and we recommend seeking out a qualified attorney for specific advice regarding these considerations), we can provide some guidance strictly based on the text of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), a product of the Uniform Law Commission, the same entity that developed and promulgates changes to the UCC. Under the UETA, an electronic signature is simply defined as:

… an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted with the intent to sign the record.

Under this broad definition, many different actions may be associated with an electronic signature under the UETA. Common examples you’ve likely encountered are checkboxes stating ‘I agree to the terms and conditions …..’ on a given site. Consequently, you will also find significant variance in providers offering ‘digital signature’ solutions for facilitating electronic document signing. Some providers have implemented a check or dialog box for capturing an agreement to a given document. Others allow users to ‘write’ or draw a signature on a webpage, which is then applied to this document. The operative questions are: Although these signatures may be legal in a jurisdiction operating under the UETA or a comparable statute, will they survive challenges in court? How do we prove a user signed a given document AND that the document hasn’t changed since signing?

The most effective method a small number of providers have chosen, and the method utilized by Excubia, is the use of the Adobe Approved Trusted List (AATL) certificate. AATL is a recent successor to Adobe’s certified document program. Using an AATL certificate, a document can be electronically secured through use of a specialized certificate embedded in a PDF document. This certificate is encrypted with information about the signed document, which allows any recent version of Adobe Reader or Acrobat to determine if the contents of the document have changed since signing. The certificate also includes a timestamp to record the signing date and time. Used in conjunction with a robust authentication process and the provision of a supplementary signing certificate appended to every signed document which captures key signer information (including IP address), this process provides strong evidence of the integrity of each signing session.

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