Are Electronic Documents Legal

If you have ever seen any of the popular crime series or noir movies, you would be familiar with the concept of evidence manipulation and mildly put, very creative ways of producing evidence. For example voice recordings, and videos, and bunch of other things which do not make any sense at all. However when it comes to documents, it’s always a neat bunch of paper documents, which the lawyer in said fiction holds in his hands, and shows it to everyone present to stress on the evidence. Here is where you have funny lines like “This paper in my ‘hand’ proves that Larry was indeed in his hotel room and not on the spot where the crime ……. “And so on.


The Case

Let us put the over the top drama out of the picture for now. What we actually are talking about is the perception that everything in paper is real, and everything that is not on paper is somehow illegal. However the truth could not be far from the perception in this case, as it’s very simple to fabricate real documents and hence they may not be always correct and thus basically have the same level of authenticity as the digital documents. Yet, no movies or soaps ever show a lawyer waving his tablet or mobile phone, or even laptop to the jury. So things like these question the legality of digital documents. So if you are thinking that whether or not that email you sent the other day holds any water, here are a few things that should sort out the issue.


Law and Acts – (E-SIGN)

When it comes to digital signing of documents, the playing field is pretty much open. It’s important to know which acts and law give you protection. In United States, there is a clear legislation on this in form of E-Sign or Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. The actual words of the act passed in 2000 are given below.

“A signature, contract, or other record relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form; and
a contract relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.”
So what it essentially means is that, a digital document is equal to an actual document as far as the law is concerned. An interesting bit of trivia about this law is that it was actually signed digitally, to further stress on the admissibility of the digital signature and documents.


Law and Acts – (UETA)
Apart from the E-Sign, there is further protection in form of the UETA or United Electronic Transaction Act which has been adopted into 47 state laws. If you are thinking about the states which haven’t done so, it’s probably a moot point as these states have their own version of the law. The UETA focuses on what is ‘an electronic record’, a proof of the document ownership. This record holds the key to the electronic tracing of the authenticity. So as long as you can produce this record, you can use this document as a proof in the court of law. It’s really simple, as you just need to ensure that your document creation and management software has high level of encryption that prevents altering the digital record.
So what about other countries, apart from the United States? Well, most advanced countries have their own legislation that confirms the validity of an electronic document.


The Conclusion
So does this bring the lawyer we mentioned earlier closer to waving his tablet to the jury without a worry? Well perhaps, it really depends on the lawyer and how good his document management software is. Because, these laws help the electronic document be considered ‘an equal’ of the traditional document, and both could be tampered with. So in any case you should probably look at options to ensure that your evidence is admissible on the big day in court. Fortunately for you, this is easier to do with the digital documents, and you could do it just by consulting an Electronic Document Management Software or EDMS consultant.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to add any information which you think could be helpful. And hey, if you thought this was helpful, do spread the word. We would really appreciate it.

P.S. This article was also created and e-signed using the best EDMS tools. 😉
Disclaimer: The article above is strictly for information purpose and not to provide any legal advice.


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