An electronic signature (e-signature) is a technology-driven, legal equivalent of a handwritten signature used on digital documents and data. A signature is considered electronic when it meets the legal requirements for such signatures, which typically include that it contains some sort of indication of intent by the person signing. Additionally, with an electronic signature commonly, users are able to receive copies of the document at the time they sign it.
Electronic signatures can be used on anything with a digital representation, including paper documents, PDFs, and digital journeys. Many methods exist for applying these signatures, which range from signing forms on a website or mobile app to scanning a physical document with a camera or stylus.
Many of the most common uses for electronic signatures are centered around simplifying, speeding up, and legitimizing business processes. Some of these examples include:
An electronic signature is considered legally valid if the method used to create and submit an electronic signature meets several criteria. This often includes:
eSignatures are quickly becoming the standard for ensuring that signatures are both authenticated, reliable, and unambiguous. There are many reasons why this is an attractive option for organizations beyond simply saving paper. Here are just a few:
There are many reasons why digital signatures have become so popular in recent years. They provide simplicity, security, reliability, and legal compliance that is unmatched by traditional paper forms.
Although the term eSignature is often used interchangeably with a digital signature, they are not synonymous. A digital signature provides electronic proof of authentication (who signed) as well as evidence of the signer's intent to authenticate a document (that it was signed). An e-signature implies an actual handwritten signature on an equivalent document, which may be required in the application's jurisdiction, but most eSignatures can be converted to a handwritten signature at little cost.
Digital signatures are only as reliable as the practices used by the signer (e.g., ensuring that the private key is kept secure), while e-signatures are more reliable by design.
The topic of eSignatures is often regulated by individual governments or states. In some countries, such as the United States, no specific laws exist about eSignatures, and their legal status depends on the application. In others, a combination of various laws determines a digital signature's legality for different situations.
Despite a digital signature's legal equivalence to a handwritten signature in some situations, the two are not strictly interchangeable. In 2000, the United States passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), which extends the definition of legal documents to include electronic signatures if all parties consent to sign digitally.