European legislation on eSignature

european parliament

A lot of people are skeptical about electronic signatures, especially when it comes to the legal aspect. You need not to worry about the legality of electronic signatures in Europe and a lot of other countries like the USA. Although one cannot be faulted for having such a myth concerning the legal validity and use of eSignatures. In the meantime, it is important to know that eSignatures are on course to completely take over from the conventional handwritten method of authorizing records and documents. One reason for this is that eSignatures are more secure, while another reason is that the traditional method always requires the authorizer to be present in person to sign the necessary documents, something that may not always be feasible in this digital era.

In this article, we try to give an insight into the establishment, regulations and legal standing of eSignatures in Europe. We will also talk about the different types of eSignatures currently in use and the differences between them.

What Laws Regulate Them?

Electronic signatures are very much legal and are regulated in Europe under Regulation No 910/2014 which is also referred to as elDAS. This regulation has been active all over Europe since July 2016 and is binding on all members of the European Union. Hence, all countries in the European Union must adhere by this rule which replaces the more ambiguous Directive 1999/93/EC. All over Europe, countries have made legislations which consolidates this regulation. In Spain, the Law 59/2003 of 19 December establishes guidelines on the use of eSignatures in the country. What this new rule does is simply to create a legal backing for digital identification system and trust services in Europe.

What Types of Electronic Signatures Exist?

The regulation guiding electronic signatures in Europe defines two types of eSignatures:

Advanced Electronic Signatures: this is an electronic signature which is uniquely linked to a signatory and can be used to identify such signatory. It is made with creation information that the signatory can use exclusively with a high degree of assurance and is created in such a way that any other changes to the data will be easily known.

Qualified Electronic Signature: this is simply an advanced electronic signature produced by a qualified signature creation gadget based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures.

What is the Main Difference Between an Advanced and a Qualified Electronic Signature?

Sequel to the definitions of the elDAS regulation, we can say that the difference between these two types of eSignatures is that a qualified eSignature is made by using a qualified electronic signature device and it must be based on a qualified eSignature certificate. These are not defined for advanced eSignature.

A qualified electronic signature creation is any device which is capable of authenticating electronic signatures and as such must be able to prevent falsification of signatures. A qualified electronic signature certificate is a virtual certificate issued by a registered trust service provider and serves to authenticate and certify that an eSignature belongs to a particular individual. To get such a certificate, you have to be physically present before the trust provider so that they can verify your identity and details.