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12 October, 2012,

Digital Signature best practice

Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust, but verify.”

How true and applicable to so many areas in our lives today! Obviously, I am not going to examine this theme in connection to the relationships between people or social groups, but rather to showcase some latest cases that explore trust between people and technology and more specifically, in relation to electronic and digital signatures.       

In the first case, a dispute between a professional couple and a real estate agent over the validity of their contract was brought up in the Court of Appeals in Arizona. This argument raised the question of what qualifies as an electronic signature, and whether an e-mail could be legally equivalent to a signature on a contract.   

The second one involves Macmahon Holdings, a construction and mining contract company in Australia. Macmahon management called in its lawyers to investigate internal e-mails that were supposedly written by their chief executive and board of directors about an alleged takeover offer at a generous premium by a Chinese company, which resulted in a trading halt (5 October, 2012). 

The above is relevant to our discussion as it again questions the trust we can/should have in online written professional or official information, and what can be done about it. Peter Moon, a Melbourne lawyer who writes a weekly technology column for the Australian Financial Review, referred to the latter and questioned whether Macmahon “directors, or their lawyers, or the regulator they complained to, are digitally signing their mail” (9 October, 2012). 

Moon follows it with a clear message on how to avoid these situations, and why digital signatures (not simple electronic signatures) provide the best possible solution: “A true digital signature, on the other hand, is the product of the same complex bit of mathematics that underlies data encryption. In fact, it’s just the other side of the encryption coin. It calculates a virtually unique string of text for any document, including an e-mail, that can validate both who authored or authorised it, and that it hasn’t been tampered with. Change as much as a space in the text and it won’t validate.”   

Couldn’t agree with him more! These are well known, irrefutable facts that are implemented daily by the worldwide online signing users of the Secured Signing PKI digital signature service that authenticates each user with digital certificate, provides ownership approval, and grants this much-needed assurance and verification.       

Till next time,

Cheers, John