What are some of the differences between wet, electronic and digital signatures?
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What are some of the differences between wet, electronic and digital signatures?

The difference between wet, electronic and digital signatures explained

Although first things that come in mind when one mentions the word signature are a paper, pen and hand-written name, this is not the exclusive form a signature can have.

Nowadays, almost everything exhibit a digital format, signing documents is no exception.

When talking about signatures there are several distinct styles of signatures people refer to.

Three of the most distinct styles are wet, electronic and digital signatures. Each style has its own distinct characteristics as will be explained below.

 Wet signatures 

A wet signature is the traditional way of signing documents that has been used for centuries and is probably still the most often used signature style.

This kind of signature is created by physically putting a mark on a document. Mark can be either in a form of writing a name, usually in a stylized cursive format, or in a form of a seal.

The name wet indicates that the signature is fresh as the ink hasn't yet dried as well as the fact that signature was made by using ink or wax.

Although a wet signature has its advantages, most notably every persons signature differs and is unique, thus making it possible to link a certain signature with a particular person, there are some difficulties that this kind of signing constitutes.

This goes especially for daily business activities as physical exchange and storing of paper documents can be quite challenging and time-consuming.

The modern business era requests faster and more effective signing process that ensures accurate and proper decisions are made.

Electronic signatures

This is where electronic signatures come in as they are commonly referred to as synthetic wet signatures.

As the name suggests, these signatures are produced electronically and can take various different forms.

From pictures of hand-written signatures to electronically written names or simply a combination of numbers and letters.

One crucial advantage electronic signatures provide is that the signatory doesn't necessarily have to be present at the same location as document the he is signing.

Consequently, documents can be signed quickly and efficiently from anywhere in the world, a feature crucial for conducting business worldwide.

Although electronic signatures sometimes resemble wet signatures, this can't be always said for consequences that electronic signatures draw.

While one is signing the document with wet signature, he is also inherently physically present in the room where the document is located.

Electronic signatures, on the other hand, can be produced from across the world and the identity of the signatory is thus difficult to confirm.

Especially so because electronic form isn't unique and can be reproduced by anyone, not necessarily the one this electronic signature supposedly represents.

Facilitator of electronic signature only states that someone from particular IP address accessed certain e-mail address and asked to insert picture in the document.

Understandably, legal certainty with electronic signatures is threatened by the fact that there really isn't any major obstacle for third person to be using someone else's signature.

Imagine thussituation in which you would be in constant fear of someone else issuing a commitment on your behalf, let's say buying an expensive item from your bank account.

For this reason, electronic signatures are not always legally binding per se and don't constitute the same legal effects as hand-written or wet signatures.

Digital signatures

At least in most parts. Digital signatures are namely still technically electronic signatures with the difference of being legally valid.

One important characteristic digital signatures bear is that they can fulfill both identification and authentification function a valid signature must have.

This is done by strong cryptographic methods that make any changes to the document detectable and traceable.

In addition, digital signatures come with private key that is held only by the signer.

If such key is used to sign a particular document it is mathematically provable that only the entitled holder of this private key could have placed that signature on the document.

As a result, not only are digital signatures safer than other electronic signatures, they are arguably even more secure than their physical counterparts.

It is namely easier to manipulate hand-written signature or seal than breaking cryptographic code which is usually secured by so strict security measures that even the most advanced supercomputers take several years to decode.

When you sign a document digitally, it normally comes with a certificate of authority that ensures the validity of the signatory (the person who signed the document and holds the private key).

Furthermore, parties on both sides of a digital signature are able to detect whether the signed document has been altered or changed in any way that would invalidate it.

In addition to private key, each digital signature also contains a public key that enables anyone who can access the senders public key to verify the content has been signed by the right person and hasn't been changed since then.

As a consequence, digital signatures are the most secure and complete type of signature that is particularly widely used by businesses.

Where can wet, electronic and digital signatures be used? 

Although digital signatures are the most advanced type of signature, wet signatures are still the basic form of signing documents and are preferred type of some organizations.

Nevertheless, since the E-SIGN legislation went into effect in 2000, electronic and digital signatures hold the same legal position as wet signatures and must be accepted by businesses.

At least in the United States and some other countries contract or any other commercial transaction thus shall not be denied legal effect solely because it is in electronic form.

But the latter isn't true for some other, to electronic signature less benevolent legislation.

In the European Union, for instance, only digital or qualified electronic signature is the equivalent of a handwritten signature under the EU Directive 1999/93/EC.

If you want to make sure your electronic signature is legally binding and valid in any jurisdiction use FillAnyPDFsoftware to sign a document digitally.


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