Are Electronic Signatures Legally Binding?
Whether electronic signatures are legally binding or not depends on the law of the country you are in and the circumstance. In the United States, electronic signatures are legally binding in many instances. For other countries, see Wikipedia's entry on digital signature and law.
What are electronic signatures? Electronic signature can be a typed name in a digital document, an inital of a letter, a mark, or checkmark in a checkbox, or even a click of a button next to words such as "I agree" or something similar.
U.S. Public Law 106-229 dated June 30, 2000 defines electronic signature as ...
"an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record."
These electronic signatures may be legally binding in many countries due to various government acts. They can have the same weight as pen and ink signatures.
Laws in the United States About Electronic Signatures
In the United States there is the "Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act" (also known as the E-Sign Act) which states ...
"IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any statute, regulation, or other rule of law (other than this title and title II), with respect to any transaction in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce— (1) a signature, contract, or other record relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form"
Note that it says "in general", meaning there are always exceptions and may not apply to every case. You need to consult a lawyer to determine whether e-signatures are valid in your particular case or not. As every case is different.
There is also the UETA, or Uniform Electronic Transactions Act 1999 which states ...
"This Act simply assures that the signature may be accomplished through electronic means. No specific technology need be used in order to create a valid signature. One's voice on an answering machine may suffice if the requisite intention is present. Similarly, including one's name as part of an electronic mail communication also may suffice, as may the firm name on a facsimile."
It also states that whether an e-signature is legally binding or not depends on the intent and on the circumstance. Quoted form the linked document...
"The precise effect of an electronic signature will be determined based on the surrounding circumstances under Section 9(b)."
Article written January 2011 and are opinions of the author at the time of writing. Author is not a legal professional and this is not legal advice.