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Simple VS Advanced Electronic Signatures in Australia

To clear up confusion around different eSignature types, we lay bare the difference between simple electronic signatures and advanced electronic signatures.
We lift the hood on simple electronic vs advanced electronic signatures.

Simple vs advanced electronic signatures: The SigniFlow team frequently engages with companies in Australia around the subject of electronic signature types, around which there is much confusion. Even the real techies often need guidance around the different signature types, before making a decision as to which solution is best suited to their company.

So let’s take a look under the hood, and shed some light on how different types of electronic signatures work – that is, simple (or basic) vs advanced electronic signatures.  

What is a simple electronic signature?

A simple electronic signature (SES) is essentially any eSignature that is not advanced (AES) or qualified (QES). Simple electronic signatures are generally defined as “Symbols or other data in digital form (whether it be a sound, process or symbol) attached to an electronically transmitted document as verification of the sender’s intent to sign the document”. The intent is indicated, but there is no verification of the signer’s identity.

It is also the most widely used eSigning procedure, due to its speed and simplicity.

According to the Australian Electronic Transactions Act 1999, there are a few barriers to the use of simple electronic signatures, or eSignatures, for remote execution of most legal documents.

Australia’s electronic transaction regime allows for a document to be signed electronically, with these provisos:

  1. Identity: a method is used to identify the person and to indicate that person’s intention regarding the information communicated;
  2. Reliability: the method used was reliable or factually proven to have identified the person and indicated their intentions regarding the information communicated; and
  3. Consent: the person to whom the signature is being given consents to use the agreed method of identifying the person and indicating their intention.

Within the act, the term “eSignatures” refers to any signature that is applied to an electronic document. Electronic signatures can be used to confirm acceptance of content within a document; however, not all electronic signatures offer the same levels of assurance of non-repudiation in a court of law.

However, suppose you operate in a highly regulated industry such as Legal, Financial Services, Healthcare or Government – where sensitive or confidential information is handled on a daily basis – you would need to consider a more secure option.

What is an advanced electronic signature?

Advanced electronic signatures are a form of electronic signature that offer more assurance around signer identity – a criterion that is necessary to enhance non-repudiation in a court of law by global electronic transactions standards.

Before we go into detail, let’s address a few of the most common concerns individuals and organisations face when receiving and sending a document for eSignature, such as:

  1. Who is the person receiving the document?
  2. Is the person who signed the document actually who they claim to be?
  3. How do I know the email has not been intercepted and the content of the document changed?
  4. How can I verify the signature hasn’t been forged?

These reservations are inherent in electronic document workflows. Consequently, advanced electronic signatures were developed to prevent fraud, forgery and deception.

When you apply an advanced electronic signature to a document, cryptography embeds the signer’s digital identity or audit trail (IP address, email, Geolocation) to the document. This is similar to a unique fingerprint in the physical sense. 

The audit trail resides within the PDF document, so any receiving party that wants to query a signer’s identity can double click a signature to verify their digital identity. Like a person’s fingerprint, the audit trail that makes up a digital identity cannot be replicated or altered. This means an advanced electronic signature is a far more secure and compliant means of electronically signing documents.

What types of signatures are legally binding in Australia?

Law specific to electronic transactions is relatively complicated in Australia, due to the federal nature of the country’s government. The key legislation is the Electronic Transaction Act (ETA) of 1999, which applies to all states governed by Commonwealth laws.

The new state and national provisions do not refer to the prescribed method of electronically signing. Instead, these focus on the need for the method or application to identify the person signing the document. This leaves much open for interpretation.

European regulations leading from the front

Regulators in Europe and the UK now enforce qualified electronic signatures (QES) over simple electronic signatures, as these provide more authenticity and integrity and can stand up in a court of law.

As the only type of electronic signature with the same legal value as a handwritten signature under the electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services (eIDAS), qualified electronic signatures meet the highest standards of security and authentication available in the European region.

eIDAS regulation makes it easier for citizens and businesses within member states of the European Union to implement digital transformation strategies and ensure eSigned documents hold the same legal status as paper-based ones. eSignatures lie at the core of this initiative, and technical standards facilitate the adoption of common standards for all businesses.

The advancements in eSign technologies and associated regulations are paving the way for more secure transaction management, positively impacting how businesses interact globally.

Which eSignature type is best for your business?

Deciding on what type of eSignature solution you want to implement can be a mammoth task.

However, most (if not all) signed documents are sensitive and have legal weight. Therefore, it makes sense to choose a technology that ensures the eSignature, if challenged, will stand up in a court of law.

SigniFlow offers eSignatures on every level, to cover every business use case – so now you know about simple vs advanced electronic signatures, you can make an informed choice.

SigniFlow’s advanced electronic signatures allow companies to comply with global eSignature regulations. More locally speaking, they ensure total compliance the Australian Electronic Transactions Act 1999 and New Zealand’s Electronic Transactions Act 2002.

If you have questions around your signing requirements and which type of eSignature would be best suited, give us a shout. Our friendly SigniFlow ninjas are always happy to help. Alternatively, get a demo and see the system and the eSignature options it allows first-hand.

REFERENCES

  1. Federal Register of Legislation: Electronic Transactions Act 1999
  2. SigniFlow Blog: Electronic vs Digital Signatures – Defining the difference (Simple vs advanced electronic signatures)
  3. SigniFlow Blog: Australia’s changing eSignature Landscape
  4. New Zealand Legislation: Electronic Transactions Act 2002
  5. CEF Digital: Standards and Specifications
  6. The Commonwealth Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform: Model law on electronic transactions
  7. Startup Daily: The Australian government wants to expand its digital ID system
  8. Business Wire: Global digital transaction management market 2021-2026

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Disclaimer: The information in this BLOG is provided for general informational purposes only and is the opinion of the author only. No information contained in this blog should be construed as legal advice from SigniFlow or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this blog should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this blog without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue.