Your signature is one of the key elements of your identity. It represents your approval or acknowledgement of a document, be it physical or electronic, initialed or John Hancocked. You probably sign something every single day! And with the rise of online businesses such as Amazon or Ebay, electronic signatures have become nearly omnipresent.
Forty-seven (47) states including North Carolina have signed the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) which governs the authority of the ever-more-common e-signature and, at the federal level, this is regulated by the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN). Let's see how they define an electronic signature:
The definition may seem incredibly broad, but it is written that way because e-signatures take on a plethora of forms. Look at the following examples:
Personal Identification Number
You may be signing more documents than you think! Your PIN is actually the perfect example of your signature. Every time you enter your PIN at the store or online when you use your debit card, you are signing and agreeing to the transfer of funds in exchange for the goods or services purchased. As a signature, this number is incredibly valuable; anyone that knows your PIN could authorize transactions without anyone being the wiser as the code is always the same and always perfect (no matter who enters it!). This is why banks have begun tracking your spending habits: to better track identity theft. Your signature is your identity!
Lets say the delivery man comes to your door and asks for your to sign for a package. Very rarely do they come up to you with a piece of paper and a pen, but instead he has a neat gadget called a graphics tablet which allows you to sign just as you would with a regular pen. This use of technology most closely resembles a standard physical signature, but accuracy and consistency are still common issues.
Lesser known but just as present in everyday life, a clickwrap agreement is fairly common when downloading software. You may see a little button saying "I Agree" or "I Consent" or the infamous "I Have Read the Terms and Conditions of Use" naturally accompanied by "I Agree to the Terms of Service." The little box that you click is an example of your signature--you agree and approve of the document.
E-signatures no longer face the battle of authority.
"A record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form."
However, the question of "is it YOUR signature" is still being figured out in modern legal disputes. Be wary of the way you use your signature or you may find yourself bound by limiting contracts without your knowledge.