The need for more efficient technology: Using electronic signatures in the judicial system.
Digital processes are quickly replacing manual ones across the country. However, the judicial system sometimes throws a wrench in those digital gears, and it could have ramifications for a society that increasingly desires to embrace technology for just about everything.
A California lawyer was recently sanctioned by a bankruptcy court judge for using electronic signatures on a bankruptcy petition instead of handwritten, wet-ink signatures.
The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act, which went into effect in 2000, permitted e-signatures to be legally accepted in commercial affairs—but it didn’t specifically include usage in the courts. As such, the judge stated that, although electronic signatures are accepted in commercial dealings, they may not substitute wet signatures on documents filed with the court.
Moreover, the judge stated there was not sufficient means to prove the legitimacy of a document’s electronic signature, so the signature didn’t “protect the integrity of the documents filed in bankruptcy cases.”
The attorney’s client signed a declaration stating the signature on the bankruptcy petition was indeed his intended signature. But the judge found that if the electronic signature contained sufficient evidence and complied with the court’s rule, the declaration wouldn’t be necessary.
It is true that basic electronic signatures do not contain compelling legal evidence to prove the validity of a person’s signature. But, I question if the judge would have sanctioned the attorney for using digital signatures instead.
A digital signature is a type of e-signature. But unlike a rudimentary form of electronic signature, a digital signature uses public key infrastructure to permanently embed the legal evidence of the signature within the signed document itself. The signer must first verify his identity before accessing and signing the document using one—or multiple—identity authentication processes.
Originally published in Legal Tech News
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