Digital technology has changed our lives beyond recognition in the past few decades. However, there are some areas that have been beyond its reach, at least till now. Handwritten signatures and stamped seals are some examples. We use it all the time for all our legal documents and this traditional way of authorising documents has been there since time immemorial. However, with the advent of digital technology the question arises, can we leverage this new technology to make the life of common man easier when it comes to the signing documents? Thankfully, the answer is yes.
But first, let us understand the limitations of handwritten or what is sometimes called wet signature:
- First, a traditional wet signature requires paper, printing, filing and mailing or faxing.
- Much time is lost while documents are delivered, signed and returned. These delays, which might be holding up an acquisition or an important hire, are multiplied when there are multi-page documents requiring several people’s signatures.
- Finally, a paper document is not very secure. A handwritten signature can be forged or altered, and the signer may date it incorrectly. A hand-signed document is easily lost or misplaced, and any number of unauthorised people may view it as it traverses the organisation.
Thus, we can say that though handwritten signatures have been in vogue for a very long time, they are neither time-efficient nor secure. Digital signatures solve all the above-mentioned problems inherent in the handwritten signature method.
A digital signature can be viewed as a fingerprint or a coded message that is unique to both the document being signed and the signer. It binds both of them together. If we recall, a handwritten signature also does the same thing. However, in digital signature’s case, this is being done electronically. No paper is involved.
There are three major issues concerning digital document signing:
- Authentication of the user: This involves making sure that the required person has signed the document.
- Trusted method of signing: This involves making sure that document has been securely signed and that no forgery has happened.
- The document signed is legally binding: This involves making sure that the signed document is legally binding on the parties.
Thankfully for us, Government of India vide its Gazette Notification (REGD. NO. D. L.-33004/99 dated 28th January 2015) has announced a method that facilitates Certifying Authority to offer eSign service to citizens who have Aadhaar ID. This initiative takes care of all the three issues highlighted above.
- Aadhaar service validates the authenticity of the person.
- A Public Key Infrastructure is used to securely sign the document and establish the trust.
- These services are offered by trusted third party service provider, like Certifying Authorities (CA) licensed as per the IT Act under the Controller of Certifying Authorities (CCA), which makes them legally binding.
And the way it works is very simple. Person A with Aadhaar ID uploads his documents to eSign service to get it digitally signed. In the backend, validation of the user is carried out using Aadhaar service and a key pair (a public key and a private key) is generated for the user and signing of the document is done using the private key. The user is provided with the digitally signed document and the Digital Signature Certificate.
Now, Person A can give this digitally signed document to Person B for further signing. Person A also gives his public key and Digital Signature Certificate to Person B. Person B can then with the help of Person A’s public key make sure that he has signed the document.
Thus, we can say that the eSign is the way forward for a secure and time efficient way of signing documents. Built on top of the foundation laid down by Aadhaar, it authenticates the user securely and provides a seamless interface to digitally sign any document. And as a user in a competitive world, you can be the person who moves at a digital speed, or you can be the person waiting for the ink to dry.