Digital Signatures

Mike Grossman
Professional Engineer
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Minute Read
January 14, 2015
Digital Signatures

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Preparation and transmission, even electronic storage of digital documents is common place in industry. People and businesses no longer wish to maintain large storage rooms of original, hard copy, authenticated, documents and who can blame them.

Regardless, digitization of final documents makes the authentication process more difficult and significantly more confusing for the practicing professional.

The typical procedure

The specific procedure for authenticating documents will be outlined by you Association. The two largest Associations and their governing guides include:

  • APEGA - The Practice Standard For Authenticating Professional Documents.  
  • PEO - Use of the Professional Engineer's Seal.

The authentication procedures for hard copy documents are very common amongst the Associations as follows:

  • The document must display the member's stamp.
  • The document must include member's signature.
  • The document must show the date of authentication.

However, differences amongst Associations start to appear once we consider digital documents.  For APEGA, APEGBC, APEGM, APEGNB, and OIQ, the practicing professional must also include a digital certificate from a specified third party called Notarius.

The remaining Associations, including PEO, state that the professional must utilize some sort of digital signature or certificate and have significant processes in place to provide tracking and control of the document.  In other words, the digital signature or certificate provider is up to you.

It is important to note that the Associations do not provide a digital certificate in the same way they do not provide stamps.  The stamps and certificates to remain the property of the Associations and they authorize the provider to supply a stamp or digital certificate to licensed members only.  This does include PEO since the provider is up to you.  

What is a digital signature

A digital signature or certificate is simply a mathematical scheme that confirms your identity as the responsible person for the work and you are a member of good standing with your Association.

That's all very well and nice but how the hell do they work?

Its most easily explained with this video below of one of Notarius's competitors e-Estonia.  

To wrap it all up, a digital signature is a interesting and freeing way still pass along confidence that a licensed member has accepted responsibility for a final document.  However, the Associations have not required members to issue and authenticate documents electronically.

You can still stamp, sign and date the old school way by printing the document out and grabbing a pen - it does seem quite archaic though.  

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