Electronic signatures, also known as e-signatures, have become normal for a lot of people. They are essentially a product of the digital revolution that we’re experiencing – but do they hold the same weight as conventional signatures?
Although this is a question probably best answered by your local commercial lawyer, our team has rallied to provide some simple insights into the issue. As always, the following shouldn’t be seen as legal advice, but as simple informational content.
What is an e-signature?
Basically, an electronic signature is exactly what is sounds like – a signature that has been created via some sort of digital device. They come in a variety of forms, but are increasingly common as part of our everyday lives.
A lot of companies will make you sign electronically for things. For example, if you want to pick up a registered parcel from Australia Post, you will have to sign for it – on a digital device.
Are electronic signatures legal?
In Australia electronic signatures are seen as a rapid, streamlined way to work, reducing the need for paper copies of every document and increasing efficiency. In general, electronic signatures are completely legal in Australia, and they usually carry the same weight as conventional signatures.
Electronic signatures and electronically signed documents are governed in Australia by the Electronic Transactions Act 1999. It’s worth speaking with your commercial lawyer to make sure that an e-signature is right for your purposes, but it should be fine in most cases.
Are there things I can’t sign with an electronic signature?
Although almost everything can be signed with electronic signatures in Australia, there are a few exceptions to the rule that you should be aware of. Some things that can’t be signed electronically include:
- Any documents about citizenship and migration.
- Wills, powers of attorney and similar legal documents.
- Certain real-estate transactions in certain places.
However, as we’ve already noted, pretty much everything else can be signed electronically. This includes most typical business documents.
Are there different types of e-signatures?
To complicate things a little there are actually a few different types of electronic signatures with different levels of security and carrying different weights.
Simple e-signatures are basically what their name suggests. They are valid in Australia, but don’t hold a lot of weight in the legal world. They include things like ticking a checkbox at the end of an online form.
Advanced e-signatures are more complex. They usually contain a lot more security features, can be traced back to their exact point of origin and hold a lot more legal weight.
Qualified e-signatures are very similar to advanced signatures, but they hold more weight. Generally, this means that they are more secure, often encrypted and are used for the most sensitive documents.
To summarise, electronic signatures are completely legal and widely accepted in Australia. Although they aren’t always as secure as physical signatures, they can be used to sign almost anything. There are a few exceptions to the rule, and your local commercial lawyer should be able to help you work out where you can and can’t use e-signatures.