Secure signatures: the alternatives

Published: 30 Jul 2014 Average Rating: 4.3 / 5 Print

Author: Tim Cummins

We spend many hours worrying about the integrity and enforceability of our contracts and agreements. This leads almost 60% of organizations to still operate with physical signatures and physical mailing, with just 18% regularly using e-signatures. Others most commonly use a signature image which they insert on a pdf document.

Of course, many organizations have attempted to streamline contracting through reducing the need for signing. For example, many Master Agreements include terms that establish future orders and amendments will be unsigned. However, in this case, proof of delivery can be critical and this leads 38% to use courier or mail receipts. Surprisingly, 46% are happy to send important documents by standard email, even though this offers no security when it comes to proof of delivery. (When I say 'important documents', there are defined as those documents “When there is consequence if receipt is later denied or there is a dispute about original content“.

These were the findings of a survey that IACCM undertook on behalf of secure mail provider RPost during a recent webinar. These results – and the webinar itself – offer a fascinating insight to the risky approach adopted by many corporations and public agencies, as well as the inefficiency of others. The program (available on the IACCM website) provides excellent insight to the options available and suggests 'best practices'.

My interest in this topic is because I cannot understand why the traction of secure email has not been faster and more pervasive. IACCM has explored this subject for about 10 years. Indeed, a 2005 conference featured a mock trial, at which an early version of secure mail was tested by a senior group of attorneys and found to meet legal needs in the US. I am led to believe that similar conclusions would be reached in other jurisdictions.

As trading relationships grow in significance, many organizations are recognizing that the integrity and reliability of their communications with their contracted partners is essential. This is not only about enforceability (litigation is, after all, extremely rare), but about ensuring common understanding and operation of requirements and obligations. Given the low cost of a system, it puzzles me that contracts and legal groups would not be at the forefront in advocating a system of Registered Email, which not only streamlines correspondence but makes it secure and reliable. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who can explain!


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