How many times have you been transacting business on the internet, and you had to check a box saying that your act of checking the box was the same as your electronic signature? You probably don’t even register what you are doing half the time you do it. You do it every time you pay for something on line with a credit card, but you also do it on seriously important things like when you electronically file your taxes.
How does that work? How is checking a box even remotely like the unique thing that is your personal signature?
Well, first of all, the law has to define what an electronic signature is. O.C.G.A. §10-12-2(8) says that an electronic signature is “an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign a record.” Basically, anything that you do electronically (including a particular “beep”) that indicates that you meant to sign something.
An electronic signature has the same effect as a signature made by traditional means. I said that in 14 words. I probably could have said it just as effectively in 11 “An electronic signature has the same effect as a regular signature.” The law (O.C.G.A. §10-12-7) spreads that simple sentence out over four sections and 71 words. (If you want to know how they managed to do that, see the Holy Hand Grenade bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail – seriously, that’s how the code section reads.)
But how, I hear you asking, do you prevent fraud? After all, if I sign something with my signature, it looks like my own particular brand of loopy chicken scratch. My check in a box looks exactly like everybody else’s check in a box. The law weighs in on that as well. O.C.G.A. §10-12-9 says that an electronic signature “shall be attributable to a person is such record or signature was the act of the person.” Well, duh – a person gets credit for doing something if they actually did it. But how do you prove the person actually did it, when 9 times out of 10 they did it on their sofa wearing inappropriate clothing and with Cheeto dust on their fingertips? The law goes on to say, “The act of the person may be shown in any manner, including a showing of the efficacy of any security procedure applied to determine the person to whom the electronic record or electronic signature was attributable.” Clear as mud? Well, in case you couldn’t figure out how to show the efficacy of security procedures, subsection (b) says you can figure it out “from the context and surrounding circumstances at the time of its creation, execution, or adoption, including the parties’ agreement, if any, and otherwise as provided by law.”
What does that mean exactly? Well, it means if you ordered some yellowcake uranium from a computer in Bangladesh and had it shipped to your cousin somewhere in the middle east, when just that morning you were at your desk in Atlanta, odds are good it wasn’t actually you that signed for it. It also means that if you ‘signed’ your taxes at the H&R Block office, it probably was you who did it. Context is key. The good thing about electronic records is that they are traceable to not just computers but servers.
Remember that the next time you order something embarrassing.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only. No lawyer can advise you about your case without hearing the specific details of your unique situation.