Numerous businesses have adopted the paperless policy by taking measures to stay ahead of time, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on businesses. Businesses are now moving away from the traditional way of signing documents and using electronic and digital signatures.
These two types of signatures may come across as being similar; however, many of their differences are centred on their level of security. Digital signatures will not allow any changes to the document; and to truly protect the integrity of a signed document, this measure is enforced through cryptography (encryption codes/coding), to seal the evidence and bind the identity to a transaction.
Conversely, a basic electronic signature can be almost anything in law, making it vulnerable to potential cyber threats. These signatures do not embed any evidence into the signed document and as a consequence can easily be disputed.
“As compared to digital signatures, electronic signatures do not protect the integrity of the document, so a signer can easily claim that the document has been tampered with after they have signed it. In essence, the digital components of signatures make a digital signature more trustworthy than a basic electronic signature,” says Maeson Maherry, the CEO of LAWtrust.
The South African Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECT Act) of 2002 gives legal recognition to electronic documents, as well as how electronic documents and electronic signatures are equivalent to their paper counterparts. The Act further stipulates that any marking that is made on an electronic document with the intention to serve as a signature is legally seen as an electronic signature.
“Making use of digital technology, like digital signatures, evens the odds for every business. This means that there is a way that a small business can compete with massive businesses, because they can offer the same customer experience, and they can also offer the same channels as what the big businesses are offering,” explains Maherry.
Bearing in mind the differences between electronic and digital signatures, using these signatures enables businesses to be cost effective by spending less money on printing, courier services, copying, faxing, storage, retrieval and destruction of documents.