In the first part of this post, we talked about how signatures have come along over the course of history.
As we said earlier, Morse code had a major impact in the development of modern electronic signatures.
The invention of telegraph and Morse code were two significant moments in the history of civilization. They changed communication forever. The time it used to take to deliver messages – days, weeks and months – was reduced to mere seconds. Eventually, some of the communications delivered through telegram started to include agreements to terms and conditions, intended as enforceable contracts.
The earliest validation of electronic signatures came in 1869, from a ruling passed by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
“It makes no difference whether [the telegraph] operator writes the offer or the acceptance in the presence of his principal and by his express direction, with a steel pen an inch long attached to an ordinary penholder, or whether his pen be a copper wire a thousand miles long. In either case the thought is communicated to the paper by the use of the finger resting upon the pen; nor does it make any difference that in one case common record ink is used, while in the other case a more subtle fluid, known as electricity, performs the same office.”
In the 1980s, electronic signatures became prominent in business through fax machines. Companies and professionals began to use it for office automation, business communications and time sensitive delivery of paper documents. The practice quickly established itself in business workflows and continues to this day.
It was along this period when personal computing started to make inroads at workplaces. The advent of Internet and Email once again changed how people communicated, and this is where modern electronic signatures finally took shape. Documents could now be sent electronically through email to any corner of the world, and getting important documents signed became easier.
The adoption of electronic signatures came with doubts – over the validity of documents signed electronically, and courts in various jurisdictions decided that enforceable eSignatures included agreements made by email, signatures made using digital pens, and signed digital documents. These were the first steps towards legalizing eSignatures worldwide.
With electronic signatures witnessing growth in use, businesses and governments in various countries understood the need to formulate guidelines for regulating the safe usage of such signatures.
In 1996, Utah became the first state in the United States to pass a legislation that gave legal status to documents that had been signed electronically. Other states followed suit, and by the time the E-SIGN Act of 2000 was passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in the year 2000, a number of states already had their own regulations.
In the European Union, The Electronic Signatures Directive of 1999 served as the reference to using electronic signatures in electronic contracts within the Union. The federal E-SIGN Act passed by the Congress in the U.S., and some of the guidelines in it became a reference to other legislations around the world. What helped in the passing of the E-SIGN act were the concepts laid in the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) released by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) in 1999. Soon enough, other countries around the world were formulating their own regulations on the use of electronic signatures.
At the moment, eSignatures are enforceable in more than 36 countries. Other countries are acknowledging the need for eSignature regulations, and in the years to come, many more are bound to adopt new legislations to grant validity to electronic signatures. This would help more businesses to switch over to electronic signatures and take down associated barriers that stand in the way.
Now that you’ve seen how signatures have evolved from cave paintings to electronic signatures, it is time for you to learn how you can sign and send a document online.