Contracts are binding documents between parties on certain terms and conditions. Often the finality of a contract is decided after the parties have signed the documents which might be primarily of two types, firstly, a normal signature which is conducted by parties in person and secondly, a electronic signature which is mainly conducted online between the parties. It is mostly a agreed fact that parties to an agreement are bound by signature regardless of whether they have read the contract or not though the above rule if subject to some exceptions under the Indian Contract Act, 1972 (Hereinafter ICA) and the Information Technology Act, 2000 (Hereinafter ITA). As per the provisions of ITA, electronic signature is equally applicable and binding to the parties as compared to normal signature. As per the RBI notification on Amendment to Master Direction (MD) on KYC also defines Equivalent e-document” has been defined in Section 3 as an electronic equivalent of a document, issued by the issuing authority of such document as valid in nature. As for procedure, Normal signatures are having a common format of procedure while towards the front of electronic signatures, the formal of signing the document depends on the type of agreement. In some forms of electronic contracts, mere acceptance or clicking the button ‘Accept’ signifies that the parties have entered into an understanding but in other cases, the parties have to explicitly provide their signature on the document.
As per Sec.464 of IPC, which states about making of false documents has included both manual and electronic signature. The provision states the fraudulent or dishonest signing of document by a person. Under Sec. 463 of the IPC, it defines Forgery as making of an electronic document with the intention of cause fraud, the punishment of which has been embarked under Sec. 465 of the Act with 2 years of imprisonment or fine or both. The above provisions have legal implication for both manual and electronic signature. Apart from that, the ITA states various offences of dishonesty of fraudulent collection for signature will can be both manual and electronic in nature. The ITA performs an essential role in understating of the legal implications of signatures. It was under this act which provided for Sec.10A which connoted the validity of contracts through electronic means ensuring that any form of electronic record which can be a electronic signature will not be considered as a barrier to enforcement of a contract. The reading of Chapter XI of the ITA will state the various legal implication that might result in the wrong use of signature which can be both manual and electronic, through which it can be derived that in the Indian scenario both the forms of signature have the same punishments.
As for reference to the legalities of signature in other countries, this article concentrates on U.S due to the major economic boom of the country from paper to digital standards of business communication. As per the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, the United States Government has formulated a series of provisions or the protection of electronic signatures. Under Sec. 301 of the Act, it states that the Secretary of Commerce shall promote the acceptance of electronic signature to the maximum extent possible for facilitating the development of trade and commerce. Sec. 301 (D) of the act states that States should have an non-discriminatory approach towards the use of electronic signature. Sec. 101 of the Act states that a contract consisting of electronic signature should be considered valid and enforceable. Sec. 102 (2)(A) of the act specifies the alternative procedures or requirements for the acceptance of electronic signature. This ensures that any form of malpractices should not be followed while application of the signature. Under Sec. 7 of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, it has been enhanced that this particular act establishes the equivalency of electronic and manual signature. It can be connoted from the above that the legal implications of any form of malpractice is also similar in nature. Sec.17 of the act also authorizes state agencies to use electronic records and electronic signatures generally for intra-governmental purposes, and to convert written records and manual signatures to electronic records and electronic signatures. From the above, it can be derived that on the international front, the legal implications of manual and electronic signature are similar.
As per the information from the above discussion, it can be concluded that the type of signature does not differ the legalities attached to it. Most countries around the world, and India especially has formulated strong laws that protection the validity of a contract signed by electronic signature. The very fact, that both the signatures are considered to be equally relevant, makes it transparent that the punishments in false use of the signature would be the same. Thus, as per various provisions, manual and electronic signatures have the same legal implications as both are placed in the same position.