Digital Contracts

A friend of mine who is doing business with us posed an interesting question about the digital nature of our contracts.  He said that with paper contracts you have the original that can be examined for changes and modifications.  You can’t white out a term or condition or add a few zeros to you compensation without someone being able to prove that you altered your copy.  Plus the both parties tend to keep a physical copy for comparison in case of one party contesting the contract.  In many cases we do business with contractors via a contract that is emailed as a PDF or sometimes as a Word document.  The contractor prints the contract and signs it.  Often we get only the signature page faxed back to us.

My security minded friend points out that, “it is easy to add or remove any word using any number of tools, in other words I may add an extra zero for my salary or change any thing, so how this issue is solved using digital contracts?”

My answer is that we ask the contractor to fax back the contract with a signature.  Our records in email show us sending them a specific document.  Without email documentation confirming changes or a new document sent to them there is support that the signature is based on the document we sent.  While it is possible to change systems, it usually leaves detectable footprints and it is unlikely that we would do contracts with 10 or 20 people in the same geography or job type and dramatically change the contract for one individual.  In this case if the company typically uses similar contracts it can be a benefit in supporting their side of the claim.  Ultimately the courts typically do the right thing in this regard and can decide when something has been altered, even when done expertly.

Even so, there is nothing like a confirming email after the contract is sent and another after the signature is received that covers the essence of the deal to add proof of your intentions in the face of an altered contract.

If you want the real answer then you likely have to ask your own legal counsel as I am not actually a lawyer or trained in the law beyond the basics of military law.  The point of this is that here is another vector for manipulation and attack.  Have you planned for how you would respond?