APEGA members have long had the option to issue professional documents in electronic form as long as the process they used met the requirements outlined in the Practice Standard for Authenticating Professional Documents. None of those requirements have changed, except for one -- the source from which members may obtain a digital signature.
As with paper documents, electronic documents are required to show the image of the professional member’s stamp and the image of the member’s handwritten signature, along with the date on which the document was stamped. Electronic documents must also incorporate a digital signature obtained from a trusted independent entity that issues a certificate verifying the individual’s digital signature and the integrity of the document.
APEGA members have been able to obtain digital signatures/certificates from an issuer of their choosing, e.g., Entrust, VeriSign, Arx, etc. Effective April 1, 2011, the only digital signature that is acceptable for APEGA members signing their stamps on electronic documents will be the one obtained through APEGA. The requirement for the APEGA -issued digital signature will not be retroactive, however.
The reason for this change is to provide a greater degree of certainty that a licensed member of APEGA has, indeed, accepted professional responsibility for a stamped document. Although other issuers’ digital signature certificates may confirm the authenticity of an individual’s signature, they cannot confirm that the individual is actually registered with APEGA. The digital signature certificates obtained through APEGA will confirm the validity of the member’s professional stamp without the reader of a document having to determine that separately.
Professional stamps are the property of the Association and their issuance and use is regulated by APEGA . APEGA will not authorize a digital signature to be issued to an unlicensed individual and can revoke a member’s stamp and digital signature whenever circumstances require.
Just as APEGA does not manufacture and distribute traditional ink stamps, neither does it distribute the digital signatures/certificates. Instead, the Association has entered into an agreement with Notarius Inc. to provide the necessary services. Members apply to APEGA for their digital signatures and APEGA will authorize Notarius to issue those to the members. Notarius provides similar services to other provincial engineering/geoscience associations as well as several non-engineering/geoscience organizations.
Unlike one-time charges for ink stamps, members will incur annual subscription fees associated with maintaining the systems and processes necessary for ongoing verification of digital signatures along with a one-time issuance or set-up fee. Such fees could be offset by reduced costs for producing and shipping hard copy documents and through time saved by a member’s ability to stamp and sign multiple documents at once, if that is appropriate.
For anyone who is interested in learning more, the Notarius website includes fee structures and on-line demonstrations showing how the digital signature process works. A link for digital signature subscribers requiring technical assistance is also provided.
APEGA has not required in the past, nor is it requiring now, that members issue documents electronically. Paper or mylar documents stamped in the traditional manner are still acceptable. The provision for electronic authentication and the requirement for an APEGA -issued digital signature simply recognize that less of today’s professional work is expressed in hard copy format and that a secure means of electronic document exchange is required, to protect both the professional member who issues a document and the person who relies on that document.
Ray Chopiuk, P.Eng.
Director Professional Practice