Historically, a physical document was signed and stored as an original in a secured physical environment. Often the document was copied but the copy was not considered official unless it was signed, stamped, or notarized.
Over recent decades, technology has been brought to market to take the paper documents and scan them into an EMR system for storage and recall. They are usually stored as a PDF and retain the full image integrity of the original paper document. When this occurs in a validated system, the physical document can be destroyed. The digital file of the image can be called up and printed as required.
Now, technology has enabled us to embrace the totally digital processes of collecting, storing, and reproducing all our personal confidential, and public information. Everything from signing the electronic receipt at the super market, to approving the license of new software on your computer can be done with the click of a button. And more importantly, a physical document may never exist for it.
These electronic agreements are validated by your supplying certain personal information that may include your date of birth, Social Security Number, credit Card number, etc. By providing this information, reading the disclosure, and then making an eSignature or click-box action that signifies your agreement, you enter into the same binding agreement as you would have if you signed a paper document.
In this digital world, the agreement you entered is given a number as a reference and stored in a database. Likewise, each and every items you were presented to read, agree to, and every item of information entered are stored as separate and unique objects in the database.
When a user of the application wants to review a document, they run a report to retrieve the data from the database. What might be surprising is that there is no stored document. No PDF Or JPEG image file has been created. Only bits of meta-data stored in the database. So when it comes time to view the document, all of these bits of meta-data and document content are retrieved and rendered in the application. If the application is browser based, it is the browser that renders the data.
This is where it gets interesting. If you look at 2 documents side by side and cannot tell the difference, you would tend to conclude they were identical. You would consider them the same document. If on the other hand, that same information was retrieved via 2 separate browsers, and all the substantive contents of the document were the same but the rendered font sizes were different, would you immediately jump to the same conclusion that the documents were the same? Chances are good that there would be a hesitance.
This brings us to the consideration of what constitutes a legitimate document. If all of the factual, image, and language data components remain unchanged, it is substantively the same document. The paradigm shift that we need to embrace is that it is no longer an actual physical document or a copy of one as much as a report of data from a database. If the software has passed extensive integrity validation tests, then an individual can rest assured that the report they receive is just as valid when rendered from one browser or another.