• Enforceability of Electronic Signatures: E-Sign Act and Electronic Signatures
  • November 5, 2014 | Author: David A. Wolfe
  • Law Firm: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A. - Troy Office
  • In 2000, in order to address concern whether electronic contracts can be enforceable and to provide procedures for keeping and retaining electronic records, disclosures and signatures, Congress enacted the Federal Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign).

    Under E-Sign, documents can be authenticated and attributed to the person against whom enforcement is sought with an electronic signature. A traditional ink signature is impossible to affix to an electronic contract, but electronic signatures are available and examples include:

    • A name typed at the end of an email message
    • Clicking "I agree" in a click-wrap agreement
    • A digitized image of a handwritten signature
    • A PIN
    • A digital signature

    E-Sign generally supersedes pre-existing requirements that a record be kept on paper if that record is generated in a business, consumer or commercial transaction. Under E-Sign, if a statute, regulation or other rule of law requires that a contract or other record relating to a transaction be retained, the requirement is met by keeping an electronic copy of the contract. It must remain accessible to all persons who are entitled to access in a form that is capable of being accurately reproduced for later reference.

    In April 2001, the US Department of Education enacted standards for electronic signatures in electronic student loan transactions, mandating that the lender's or holder's system be designed to ensure that the signed electronic record is designated as the "authoritative" copy and that additional copies of that record used by the system, accessed by the borrower, or other program participant, be copied from the authoritative copy. These requirements also mandate that the system-used lender or holder be capable of reflecting all activities relating to the student loan can be associated with the loan and identify any transaction as part of that loan history. This system must also be structured to prohibit changes to the authoritative promissory note record.

    Electronic Signatures Under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act

    The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, (UETA), is a state law enacted by 47 states and represents a national effort at providing some uniform rules to govern transactions in electronic commerce and bring differing state laws into line. UETA applies only to transactions in which each party has agreed by some means to conduct them electronically.

    Both laws define an "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." The fundamental rule of both E-Sign and UETA provides that a "record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form." Both E-Sign and UETA expressly acknowledge they are procedural, not substantive, and while these laws override writing and signature requirements, they do not limit, alter, or otherwise affect any substantive requirements imposed under other laws. Additionally, neither law requires a party to use and accept electronic records. Use and acceptance is strictly voluntary.

    While electronic signatures are enforceable, it remains important for lenders to institute procedures to ensure the identity of the person signing. This will establish the document's authenticity that the document came from the actual person that sent it and prevent later repudiation of the signature.