Document sealing has been around as long as documents themselves; evidence of their existence stretches back over 5,000 years.
Still, we have enough fun taking aim at boomer tech here at Contractbook without the need to start rinsing the world’s earliest civilizations!
Today, the Pope still famously uses the Ring of the Fisherman to seal documents - religion and politics are always backward in the name of "tradition"! Still, most of us try and do things a little differently these days!
What is document sealing?
We can talk about document sealing in a traditional sense in a couple of contexts. Here, we are generally talking about the sealing and authenticating of specific documents. For example, classified data is sometimes considered "sealed" for a particular number of years, but that is not what we are looking at here.
A seal was largely seen as more secure in pre-technology times than a signature or other means of identifying and verifying a document or package. In some uses, it ensured the authenticity and integrity of communication or a package, too.
While we are typifying seals as somewhat ancient, in some places, including the UK, it was a legal requirement for a business to have and use seals as recently as the late 1980s!
Emblem seals have various uses but were predominantly used for:
- Document authentication, acting as a means of “signing” the document.
- Physically sealing an envelope. Upon delivery of a communication, the recipient could have confidence they were not at potential risk if a seal was intact. A sealed seal meant no one other than the sender, or potentially anyone present at the time of sealing, was aware of its contents.
- Sealing or simply marking a container used to send cargo, like valuables or food.
Seals would generally be crafted in wax, although ink would sometimes be used, too.
Seals in (old-school) law
In a legal context, a contract or another legal instrument “made under seal” had unique legal significance in certain places until the early 20th century. As such, they were treated differently to a written contract (called “made under hand” contracts).
Some of these differences included:
- A contract made under seal was not discharged after a party had fulfilled its terms, for example, by making a payment. Instead, the contract had to be physically destroyed.
- It was not possible to claim fraud against a sealed contract, but you could against those made under hand.
- Changes to a contract were only binding if these had been made under seal, too.
- Contracts made under seal sometimes had a longer statute of limitation for enforcement.
Do physical seals still exist today?
In some respects, yes, although more from a traditional perspective rather than having any legal significance.
In addition to the example of the Pope, some businesses still use stamps to authenticate they have seen, created, or received a document. Amazingly, some business processes in some countries, like cash banking, still rely on seals, too.
How can you seal a document digitally?
Sending documents digitally means you need a little more than a wax or ink seal to protect their integrity!
Digital document sealing relies on digital signatures, wrapping your document (or another digital asset, like a piece of software) in metadata. A private key is used to seal an asset. The recipient then verifies and authenticates the document via public key. These keys help confirm a document is safe to open, from whom it says it is from and has not been altered in transit.
Given what digital document seals do, they are a vital component in cybersecurity and business workflows, particularly around automation.
How can digital document sealing optimize your contracts and other documents?
Digital document sealing can help you to optimize and automate a wealth of processes and documents. And in doing so, you can leave behind ineffective document formats like PDFs, too.
The benefits you can enjoy from using digital document sealing include:
- Ensuring your business, data, and processes are all GDPR compliant (or comply with the relevant legislation in your location).
- Ensuring the integrity of your data when transferring between apps.
- Automating processes across tech that can read a digital seal and automatically authenticate and verify a document or digital asset.
- Taking your business paperless, reducing your carbon footprint while growing the bottom line, and become more efficient!
- Tracking genuine changes when collaborating on documents and generating new seals for each version.
- Having an audit trail for all aspects of your document creation, management, and execution process.
- Being able to work with freelancers and take advantage of the gig economy by controlling and managing access to data.
Using digital document sealing in your business
The best thing about using document sealing in your business? You do not need to go out and look for document sealing software!
Instead, the platforms and apps you use to help your business move forward and innovate within the future workplace, be that contract automation software or anything else, will take care of this for you.
That leaves you to put your automations and integrations to work and enjoy the benefits!