Electronic signatures are being used in some government departments, while a pilot programme for using these signatures is being conducted in some courts, says electronic signature company DocuSign regional business manager for Africa Avi Rose.
The Department of Home Affairs is testing the use of electronic signatures, linked to the officials’ professional profiles, to improve its processes and is also applying the system to the roll-out of the smart identity cards that are replacing the green bar-coded identity documents.
The routine use of electronic signatures is also being tested at Gauteng courts to enable court officials to carry out work more efficiently, while improving the security measures regarding signatures in the courts.
Electronic signatures enhance security, compared with the hand-written signatures they are replacing, as various layers of information technology security and one-off authentication for signing high-level documents can be added. They are also effective ways of tracking the progress of a document through an organisation’s workflows.
The level of security of a digital signature can be matched to the level of importance of an employee and of the document being signed, making such signatures effective for daily and extraordinary use, he says.
For less important signatures or daily use, a simple password is sufficient protection, while higher-level signatories might need to provide their biometric details to apply the signature or request authentication from other security personnel, which is then recorded and reported, improving traceability and accountability.
Rose notes that DocuSign has received increasing requests from clients to include biometric authentication for higher-level signatories, and this might become a common form of electronic signature authentication.
“A hand-written signature can be forged and, if a dispute arises, a forensic expert must determine whether the signature is authentic. This takes time and money, but, with a digital signature system, the [authenticity] of a signature can be confirmed immediately and appropriate corrective action taken,” explains Rose.
Electronic signatures make routine work much more efficient when signing a series of similar or identical documents – for example, signing routine employment contracts or initialling a lengthy document, he adds.
Rose says, although the onus remains on signatories to read and understand all the details of contracts or documents, electronic signatures make the process of initialling and signing documents easier and more controlled.
They will also be used for other purposes – for example, when consumers sign contracts with financial organisations, Rose notes, adding that this is in line with increasing digital interaction and communication, as well as the digitisation of all aspects of commercial and civil functions.
How-ever, broader use depends on familiarity and trust, which will increase only as use of these electronic signatures increases, he concludes.