How does an electronic signature differ from a digital signature?

Do you know the difference between a digital signature and an electronic signature? What three characteristics must a reputable form of electronic signature technology demonstrate in order to meet the legal definition of an electronic signature?

E-signatures and digital signatures are, in fact, completely different animals. Animals of the same genus, that is. To illustrate the difference between electronic signatures (e signatures) and digital signatures, let’s define both terms—especially as they apply to the apartment industry.

An e-signature is an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to, or associated with, a contract or other record and used as the legal equivalent of a written signature. Within the apartment industry, e signatures, like ink signatures, are represented as unique graphical marks, which indicate that a renter has agreed to the terms of a document or lease.

The following example shows a lease document completed by hand using On-Site’s E-Sign. E-Sign also allows lease documents to be completed with a click of the mouse. Either method captures the signer’s unique identity.

E-Sign Image

A digital signature, on the other hand, is an encryption technology used to secure data. It can be used to encrypt an e-signature for additional security, but does not on its own meet the legal definition of an e signature.

The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) passed in 2000 provides for the use of electronic records and signatures and guarantees that e-signatures are just as valid as their paper equivalents. To meet the legal definition of an e-signature, the technology must be able to demonstrate three things:

  1. The person intended to sign the document. Intent is typically demonstrated through the signature itself. On-Site’s E-Sign allows renters to sign documents by click or by hand. The latter of which lets renters draw actual signatures using a mouse or touchscreen device.
  2. The signature in the document belongs to the person. On-Site’s lease documents are integrally tied to our resident screening, in this way a renter can’t E-Sign a lease document unless our resident screening has determined that they are who they say they are.
  3. The document’s contents have not changed since the person signed. On-Site stores signed lease documents securely and tamper-free online. In order to change the lease documents, they must be regenerated which would throw away the e-signatures and nullify the documents.

On-Site was one of the first technology providers to develop an apartment industry specific e signature solution, fully compliant with the ESIGN Act. For more information, call one of our online leasing specialists at (888) 556-6748.

Additional Resources:
Frequently Asked Questions: E-Signatures [PDF]
White Paper – Smarter Lease Signing: Ending the Paper Chase [PDF]