03 November 2015

Guidance on electronic signatures


Following a recently upheld complaint against a Chartered Professional Engineer the appointed Disciplinary Committee recommended IPENZ publish guidance regarding document management and the use of electronic signatures.

Electronic signatures can meet the legal requirements for a signature in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Act 2002. Signatures could be a typewritten name, or a scanned or electronic image of a handwritten signature. Other digital representations can be considered electronic signatures, such as a fingerprint or retina scan.

Anyone involved in a commercial transaction of any kind needs to be able to trust an electronic signature; that it confirms a document is complete and confidential (if required), and has come from a clear source. The more important the transaction, the greater the need for higher quality signatures securely linked to the owner. Businesses need sound processes and technology in place so employees know they can have confidence in a document signed by electronic signature.

This guidance relates to typewritten signatures and scanned or electronic images of a signature, which are the most commonly used forms of electronic signatures in New Zealand.

It is good office practice for all consulting engineering practices to have in place Quality Assurance procedures outlining how electronic signatures should be used. This includes having processes for employees who need to add someone else’s electronic signature to a document.

As a minimum, an engineer must have written approval to apply an electronic signature on someone else’s behalf. The person giving approval for their electronic signature to be used by someone else must have confidence the material their signature is approving is complete and accurate.

An employee must not apply someone else’s electronic signature without approval.