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I just read this:

The problem is that if there is a dispute over what was actually in the NDA later on, its going to be extremely difficult to establish what the NDA said. I'd refuse to sign an online NDA out of fear that some years from now, I'd be presented with "you signed this document" which looks nothing like the document I thought I signed.

I think this is applicable to both online and hardcopy documents in the same way. For hardcopy, someone with enough sophistication could just either copy your signature, or graft it from one document to another. Likewise, for electronic media, you could easily just paste their electronic signature onto a different document, since it's just bits of 1's and 0's that the document is saved in the database or cloud with, so it's easily changed.

I'm wondering how you can prevent these problems. If you are the one creating the document to be signed, wondering what must need to be done so that if you were in court the document would be considered valid, the content considered the original content and valid, and the signature considered valid. If you give a copy of the document to the person signing it, then they could use it to reference the original. But if they lose it, then they lose the protection. Also, they could just throw it away and say that they never got a copy, and say that you changed the original contract. I'm not sure how one would protect against this sort of stuff, what needs to be done on the document creator's part to maintain "legal validity" or "legal soundness". Seems like documenting the process somehow might help, but I can see loopholes there as well. Hoping one could outline/clarify what should be done here.

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    You each get a copy and hope that a court can tell the difference between truth and lies. This is the hard problem of record verification and has existed for centuries - there's a reason we still do it the way we have since paper and signatures were invented - we know exactly what and where it goes wrong and how to deal with it. – Nij Dec 29 '18 at 22:32
  • Please explain further, where I can learn about these centuries long solutions. – Lance Pollard Dec 29 '18 at 22:33
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    I summarised them in the comment's first sentence. – Nij Dec 29 '18 at 23:12
  • Have you done some research to find out how big the problem actually is? How often do signatures get forged and disputed in courts? – Greendrake Dec 30 '18 at 1:35
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    Not sure what you mean, the wording is a little confusing. Wondering if you're saying it's a good idea to move away from paper, or bad. – Lance Pollard Dec 30 '18 at 1:39
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One common practice is the sign every page on a hard copy and to initial every other page of a hard copy, usually with blue colored ink on a black and white original, and to maintain a copy of the original as authoritative.

Most electronic digital signature systems have some sort of authentication protocol.

One can also maintain a copy of what you signed in some way that can be authenticated (e.g. with metadata).

Certainly, a sophisticated party can find a way to fabricate or forge almost everything, but this doesn't come up very often because most merchants engaging in contracts with lawyer drafted written documents almost never, as a matter of empirical reality, actually do that, and because the lawyers acting as intermediaries have ethical obligations independent of and superseding their duties to their clients not to engage in that kind of fraud and not to submit false evidence. Also, when someone is discovered to have done something like that the implications are often not limited to that transaction and can instead also result in criminal charges and/or loss of professional licensure and punitive damages.

Has there ever been a case where a lawyer and a business client have conspired to engage in outright forgery?

Certainly.

But, it doesn't happen often and one takes enough precautions to make it unlikely and then lives with the risk. At some point one has to balance the risk of being defrauded against the benefit of doing business. In most situations, there is a customary way of documenting transactions and that is considered "good enough" even though it isn't perfect and most of the time it works.

The risk is largely a function of who you are dealing with.

For example, most transfers of commodities on commodity exchanges in the U.S. and publicly held securities listed on securities exchanges other than the NASDAQ aren't documented by written contracts at all, and instead are conducted by oral agreements documented in writing in the personal business notes of the parties.

Similarly, most decisions of the boards of publicly held corporations and governmental entities are made orally and then documented by a secretary of the meeting in minutes, rather than in documents executed by the decision makers. In each of these contexts, there is a sufficient basis for trust that signed documentation is not needed, in part, because the people interacting constantly interact with other other in transactions large and small, and no one will continue to do business with someone who proves untrustworthy.

The risk is much higher when a transaction is for high stakes between people who don't deal with each other personally very often and aren't working through intermediaries who do deal with each other very often (working through intermediaries who are established and regularly deal with each other and have an economic interest in being able to continue to do so is one way to mitigate the risk).

When the risk is high and the stakes are particularly great, one can not only use an original wet ink copy but entrust the original for safekeeping to a trustworthy third-party. Sometimes witnesses, notarizations, or "guaranteed signatures" (a private sector analog to a notarization in which the risk of fraud is insured by the guarantor of the signature) are also common tools to further reduce this risk.

In Continental Europe and many other "civil law" countries that don't follow the English Common Law legal system, notaries serve the role of third-party signature verifier and third-party custodian of important contracts in a far greater share of significant, legal professional drafted contracts and legal instruments than in the U.S. and other common law jurisdictions.

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The USPS and other postal services have created a service called Digital Postmarks or EPCM (Electronic Postal Certification Mark) to address exactly this problem.

Basically you can upload any document that you want to be "unalterable and time stamped". The service computes a hash (a number that will change if the contents change), and store the time stamp and the hash on a secure server.

If, at some time in the future, you want to confirm the authenticity of the document, you can upload another copy - the fact that it produces the same hash proves it's not been tampered with.

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Each party signs every page of two copies and gets one signed copy. It could be a lot more signing, but you might consider four copies and each party gets two.

Contracts should be justified so the words go the end of the line. That prevents insertion of words. The left and right margins should be the same on every page.

The text should start at the same vertical position. The text should end at the same vertical location. The bottom of the text on any page where the text doesn't go to the regular bottom should be marked.

The pages should be numbered. X of Y is better than just X.

The pages should have some identifying mark or text in at least one of the corners, like right or left header or footer.

Paper security should be acid-free with watermark or better. All pages should be in the same directions, front and back, top and bottom. http://www.secureguardpapers.com/sg-originaldocument.html

Sign with “check-safe” pen that is permanent, waterproof, and acid free.

Scan the contract and email a copy of the signed contract to each party. (Forged email headers are easy for forensic investigators to detect.) https://articles.forensicfocus.com/2019/02/15/email-forensics-investigation-techniques/

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