“Do Electronic Signatures Really Count?” And Other Common Questions
Signing something has always been an official way to contract with someone. Legal contracts have been signed on paper for centuries. Just as advancements in technology centuries ago moved civilization away from scrolls, wax seals, and formal delivery, advancements in electronics provide alternatives to the hard copy paper and pen contracts. Increasingly, electronic signatures account for more commerce and memorialization of agreements between parties. We look at four most common questions about electronic signatures and the law here. In Ohio, two sets of laws apply to electronic signatures. Federal law is described in the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, sometimes known as the federal E-Sign Act. Ohio enacted its version of the E-Sign act when it adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act or the “UETA”.
1. Is An Electronic Signature Acceptable For A Notarized Contract?
Many people do not realize that both the E-Sign Act and UETA allow for the electronic notarization of contracts. For nearly two decades, since the acts became law, notaries are permitted to notarize documents electronically. A word of caution, the other notary requirements remain in effect in Ohio. That is, the notary must personally witness the signor execute the document and personally take the oath or acknowledgement.
Some states have relaxed this personal presence requirement. A pioneer in the field is Virginia which allows for remote notarization. This form of electronic notarization does not even require that the notary be in the same physical location as the person they are notarizing a document for.
2. Isn’t Forgery A Risk With Electronic Signatures?
Forgery is no greater risk with electronically signed documents than any other form. Forgery predated electronic signatures and will continue beyond this new technology. Unscrupulous people will try to forge documents to accomplish their nefarious schemes regardless whether a document is physically or electronically signed.
The companies that make electronic signature platforms continue to make advancements to verify signatures and make them forgery proof. They do this because of concern from the customers. Federal and state laws do not require the companies take these measures. Instead they include these features as an added benefit in the competitive marketplace, to help foster honesty in commerce, and for peace of mind of their users.
3. Can Computers Make Contracts With Human Beings?
You might be surprised, but the answer to this question is yes. Electronic agents may act on behalf of the person or company they represent. Typically, the computers are not entering into contracts with one another. Humans design computer programs to enter routine contracts without intervention by the human.
As you may expect, these arrangements are prevalent among large companies with thousands of repetitive, non-negotiable agreements. In these circumstances, the electronic agents are recognized in the law as representing the intentions of the human beings who code them.
4. What Types Of Forms Cannot Have Electronic Signatures?
The law is very flexible about electronic signatures, but some forms cannot be signed electronically. These include things like wills and trusts, marriages certificates, and adoption certificates. Those and other similar type documents require a physical signature to make them legal.
It is important to the government and its agencies to have set standards like this. It helps everyone to keep track of exactly what makes a signature legal.