I am dealing with an entity that is insisting that I need to print out a document, sign it, and then scan the signed document to get it as a PDF. Initially, I had pulled the document up on my tablet, signed it on the screen with a stylus, and had sent it back, but they insist that this is an electronic signature and that they need a real one.

Is there any legal backing as to why they need a convuluted physical signature when they are not recieving the physical document? Does a signature on a touchscreen constitute an electronic signature? The touchscreen version is still my signature, and looks like my physical signature. It is my understanding that an electronic signature is a symbol of some sort from the computer, like when you type your name in a styalized way.

This is in the United States and is a FERPA disclosure form.

  • In what country? What type of legal document is it?
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 26, 2018 at 19:33
  • Apologies, updated. Although I am curious about the signature validity just in general
    – person
    Jul 26, 2018 at 19:40
  • I'm not sure of the answer here. There is a lot of what they can accept as an electronic signature, but I don't think there is anything that says that they must accept an electronic signature, especially dealing with private organizations.
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 26, 2018 at 20:09
  • I fail to understand why a set of pixels generated by scanning an ink signature is different from a set of pixels generated by moving a stylus across a touch screen. How did they even know that the thing you sent them was not a scan of a paper document that you had signed in ink?
    – phoog
    Jul 26, 2018 at 22:11
  • @RonBeyer but is this even an "electronic signature"? In my understanding, the term denotes a cryptographic signature, which this certainly is not. And if we accept the term as including a set of pixels that produce an electronic image of someone's physical signature, then why would it matter whether they were generated by a scanner or a touch screen?
    – phoog
    Jul 26, 2018 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


The relevant regulation, 34 CFR 99.30, say that you "shall provide a signed and dated written consent", and

“Signed and dated written consent” under this part may include a record and signature in electronic form that—

(1) Identifies and authenticates a particular person as the source of the electronic consent; and

(2) Indicates such person's approval of the information contained in the electronic consent.

By using permissive "may" rather than "shall", the entity is allowed to reject electronic signatures. Because the regulation adds (1) and (2) but only for electronic signatures, I would assume that there is a somewhat higher standard to be met in the case of electronic signatures (and I assume that the entity makes similar assumptions). Since the regulation gives no further information on what is necessary to satisfy conditions (1) and (2), accepting an e-signature carries some increased risk. The appendix analyzing comments for this regulatory change does point to issues regarding authentication, which could well feed institutional concerns over unpredictable liability.

  • 1
    This doesn't address the question of whether a scanned ink signature is any more or less electronic than the image of a signature created with a touch screen. I can't think of any reason for the two to be treated differently: a scanned ink signature is also "in electronic form," and it is no more or less capable of "identifying and authenticating" a person or indicating that person's approval than is a touch-screen signature.
    – phoog
    Jul 26, 2018 at 22:18
  • Furthermore it's not at all clear to me that the discretion implied by the word "may" lies with the institution. The regulation says that the individual shall provide signed consent and that signature may include electronic signature. If my sister tells me I need to give my niece a pizza that may include prosciutto, I would conclude that it was for me to choose, not my niece.
    – phoog
    Jul 27, 2018 at 0:46
  • There are also statutes which the reg doesn't appear to consider that may override it (i.e. the reg may be outdated). Of course, as a practical matter, the OP is dealing with a low level drone and it is more cumbersome to fight it than to comply.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 27, 2018 at 1:01

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