Electronic Signature in Common-Law Countries

Electronic signature is widely accepted and used in common-law countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. The legal focus is on the facts and circumstances surrounding the event of signing rather than a particular technological approach. Consequently, the legal definition of an electronic signature includes requirements such as the signer's adoption of the signature symbol, affixing his signature to the document, and his intention to sign.

For example, the electronic signature as defined by the U.S. ESIGN Act is broadly described 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". All 50 states have laws that define electronic signatures the same way.

In addition to the intent, the ESIGN act also requires that the signing be attributed to the individual but the specifics of authenticating and verifying the signer and verification are left to the agreeing parties. However, the stronger the authentication, the lower the risk of repudiation. Some regulations also dictate that an electronic record of the transaction or "audit trail" must also be retained.

Finally, some laws also require that the record is tamper-evident whether at rest or in transit, ensuring its integrity both before and after signing. While electronic signature acts that are different from ESIGN exist in Canada, the U.K., and Australia these and other common-law countries have similar legal processes for and cultural acceptance of electronic signatures. In nearly all countries, including civil law jurisdictions, even a basic electronic signature is admissible as evidence in a court.