Digital Document Signing Laws: an Overview

This article originally appeared on SSL.com with the title Digital Document Signing Laws: A Global View

White document is signed with quill pen

Author: Connor Wilson

If the whole planet isn’t on the cloud already, it will be before you know it. With a growing digital population, more things are being done remotely that we had never before thought possible. One such thing is digital signatures. As more and more people look to execute documents digitally, cross-border legality of such actions could potentially become a roadblock.

While most industrialized nations now recognize and accept digital signatures as legally binding, there may be slight stipulations from one case to another. Fortunately, there are a few nearly universally accepted principles and steps that you can take to ensure your digital signature is acceptable, wherever the contract is being executed.

Digital Signatures vs Electronic Signatures

While they may seem synonymous, an electronic signature is not necessarily a digital signature. An electronic signature can consist of anything from writing your name at the bottom of an email, a scanned signature, clicking an “I accept” button, associated biometric data such as fingerprints, or using an e-signing platform. A digital signature is the most secure and sophisticated form of electronic signature. Using PKI, digital signatures allow both parties to be sure that the right people are signing. This is because signatories are required to have their identities validated by a trusted certificate authority before a document signing certificate is issued. Depending on the industry and the jurisdiction in which you’re conducting business or executing a document, you may need a verified digital signature over a standard electronic signature.

How do Digital Signatures Work?

Electronic signatures often consist of an image of a handwritten signature, usually made with your finger or a stylus on a touchpad or screen. They may also include single or multi-factor authentication methods such as a PIN, password, email authentication, or more. The term “electronic signature” on its own does not guarantee that any type of third-party validation of the signatory or integrity of the document’s content has taken place. Unlike a basic electronic signature, a digital signature uses a PKI-based digital certificate issued by a certificate authority (CA) which binds the identity of a person or organization to a cryptographic key pair. When a document is digitally signed with the signer’s private key, the document’s content and the signatory’s identity are bound together cryptographically to form a unique digital fingerprint. This digital signature ensures:

  • Authentication

  • Integrity

  • Non-repudiation

A third-party publicly trusted CA can take care of the validation process and issue a document signing certificate, giving you or your organization added assurance when executing a document digitally.

Digital Signatures in the Cloud

As more and more people begin using cloud-based platforms, the use of cloud-based digital signatures is becoming increasingly more common. The main draw of using a cloud-based digital signature is ease of use and automation, all while enjoying the benefits of a true digital signature, including encryption within the document itself.

Is My Digital Signature Valid In Other Countries?

Currently, PKI-based digital signatures are fully acceptable in the US, EU, Canada, and, in most cases, in Mexico. Mexican