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Feb 21, 2024 · 7 min read

Is electronic signature legal?

E-Signatures: understanding their legal framework, validity, and benefits. Simplify the signing process with Enty.

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Although it has now been a few years since electronic signatures (e-signatures) have become a part of contract management processes, the subject still raises a number of disputes. This tool offers convenience, efficiency, and security. However, many people, entities and even countries still have unanswered questions about the legality and validity of electronic signatures.
Today, we will explore the legal framework surrounding electronic signatures, their validity in different jurisdictions, the types of documents that can be signed using e-signatures, and the advantages of using electronic signatures in your business operations. We will also delve into the differences between electronic signatures and digital signatures, the importance of intent and consent in electronic signing, and the factors that render e-signatures invalid. Additionally, we will highlight how innovative solutions like Enty make it easier than ever to sign contracts online.

Understanding Electronic Signatures

Electronic signatures serve the same purpose as traditional handwritten signatures—to prove that an agreement exists and that the parties involved have consented to its terms. An electronic signature is essentially a digital representation of a person's intent to sign a document. It can take various forms, such as clicking "I agree" on a website, typing your name into an online form, or even using a solution that replicates your actual signature.
To ensure the legality and validity of electronic signatures, certain criteria must be met. First and foremost, both parties must have the intention to sign electronically and give their consent to the electronic signing process. Additionally, the e-signature must comply with the legal requirements set forth by the jurisdiction in which the document is being signed.

Legal framework for electronic signatures

The legal framework for electronic signatures varies from country to country. In the United States, for example, electronic signatures are recognized as legally binding under the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign Act) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). These laws establish the validity and enforceability of electronic signatures, as long as certain conditions are met.
Similarly, the European Union has its own legal framework for electronic signatures known as the eIDAS Regulation. This regulation ensures the legal validity of electronic signatures across all member states, making them acceptable in most business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) situations.
Other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have their own laws and regulations governing electronic signatures. It's important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements in your jurisdiction to ensure compliance with the applicable laws.

What can be signed using electronic signatures?

Electronic signatures can be used to sign a wide range of documents, including contracts, agreements, invoices, purchase orders, non-disclosure agreements, employment contracts, and more. In most cases, electronic signatures are legally valid and enforceable for these types of documents.
However, it's worth noting that certain documents may require wet signatures, especially in matters of family law or estate planning. It's important to consult with a legal professional if you're unsure whether electronic signatures are legally acceptable for a specific document.

Advantages of using E-signatures

The use of electronic signatures offers numerous advantages for businesses. These include:
  • Cost and time savings: electronic signatures eliminate the need for printing, scanning, and mailing physical documents, saving businesses time and money on paper, ink, and postage.
  • Streamlined workflows: electronic signatures enable faster document signing and approval processes, eliminating delays and improving overall workflow efficiency.
  • Improved document security: electronic signatures provide enhanced security measures, such as encryption and authentication, reducing the risk of document tampering or forgery.
  • Convenient and accessible: electronic signatures can be signed from anywhere, at any time, using any device with internet access. This accessibility makes it easier for parties to sign documents remotely without the need for in-person meetings.
  • Reduced environmental impact: by reducing the reliance on paper-based processes, electronic signatures contribute to environmental sustainability efforts by minimizing paper waste and carbon emissions associated with printing and transportation.

Electronic signatures vs. digital signatures

While electronic signatures and digital signatures are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences between the two. An electronic signature is a broad term that encompasses various methods of digitally signing a document. It can be as simple as typing your name or using an e-signature solution.
On the other hand, a digital signature is a specific type of electronic signature that relies on advanced cryptographic technology to ensure the integrity and authenticity of the signed document. Digital signatures use encryption, digital certificates, and audit trails to provide a higher level of security and non-repudiation.

Validity of electronic signatures

To ensure the validity of electronic signatures, several factors come into play. These include:

Intent and consent

Both parties must have the intent to sign electronically and give their consent to the electronic signing process. This ensures that the electronic signature is legally binding and enforceable.

Verification of identity

Electronic signatures should include measures to verify the identity of the signer, such as multi-factor authentication or digital certificate-based authentication. This helps prevent unauthorized use of the signature and ensures that the signer is who they claim to be.

Audit trails and timestamps

Electronic signatures should be accompanied by audit trails and timestamps, which provide a record of the signing process. This helps establish the authenticity and integrity of the signed document, making it difficult for parties to dispute the validity of the signature.

Secure storage and access

Signed documents should be securely stored in a manner that prevents unauthorized access or tampering. This ensures that the integrity of the document is maintained and that it can be retrieved and presented as evidence if needed.

When are E-signatures rendered invalid?

While electronic signatures are generally legally valid and enforceable, there are certain scenarios where they may be rendered invalid. These include:
  • Matters of family law and estate planning: some jurisdictions may require wet signatures for certain documents, such as wills, trusts, divorce papers, and adoption agreements. It's important to consult with a legal professional to understand the specific requirements in your jurisdiction.
  • Regulated industries: certain industries, such as healthcare and finance, may have specific regulations that dictate the use of electronic signatures. It's crucial to ensure compliance with industry-specific requirements to avoid rendering the e-signature invalid.
  • Lack of intent or consent: if one or both parties did not have the intent to sign electronically or did not give their consent to the electronic signing process, the e-signature may be deemed invalid.
  • Forgery or tampering: if there is evidence of forgery or tampering with the electronic signature or the signed document, the e-signature may be considered invalid.
It's important to note that the specific circumstances surrounding the signing of a document can impact the validity of an electronic signature. If you have any doubts or concerns about the validity of an e-signature, consult with a legal professional for guidance.

Get secure, valid signatures

Enty is proud to offer an efficient way to handle electronic signatures, which are convenient, secure and legally binding. You can sign contracts online with ease, knowing that your electronic signatures carry the same legal power as traditional handwritten signatures.
Enty offers advanced security features and various ways to sign documents online, depending on what suits you or your business best. We ensure the integrity and authenticity of your signed documents and simplify the entire signature process. Streamline your workflows, reduce administrative burdens, and close deals faster.

Last thoughts

As we saw today, electronic signatures are a legally valid and enforceable method of signing documents in most jurisdictions - although it will still be a good idea to check the specifics of each. They offer numerous benefits for businesses, including cost and time savings, streamlined workflows, improved document security, and environmental sustainability. By understanding the legal framework surrounding electronic signatures and using innovative solutions like Enty, you gain the peace of mind that comes with knowing your electronic signatures are valid, legally binding, and compliant with the applicable laws and regulations in your jurisdiction.
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