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Legal validity of the electronic signature

More and more organizations and institutions are switching to the electronic signature because of the high efficiency benefits. But what different variants are there of this signature and is the electronic signature just as legally valid as the 'wet ink' handwritten signature?
Eelco Bastiaans

Different electronic signatures

In contrast to the handwritten signature, the electronic signature has three different variants. 

  1. The simple electronic signature
    This is the simplest variant. This could include, for example, a signature on paper that has been scanned and then placed as an image to end a letter or email. 
  2. The advanced electronic signature
    The advanced electronic signature is also known as the digital signature. This technique uses two codes that are inextricably linked: a public and a private key. These keys are uniquely allocated to a person. Which public key belongs to which person is recorded by a certification service provider in a digital certificate. The person concerned can then sign an electronic file with his private key. The recipient of this file can verify with the corresponding public key whether the message is received without being altered and that the sender is the owner of the corresponding private key. 
  3. The qualified electronic signature 
    A qualified electronic signature is a signature with a qualified certificate. Such a certificate is a digital file that has been added to the original document. There are special bodies that issue certificates, the so-called certification service providers.

Are electronic signatures legally valid?

But what about the validity of these signatures? Most governments have drawn up directives for electronic signatures. This directive stipulates that an advanced electronic signature, based on a qualified certificate, has been created using a safe means. This signature then complies with the legal requirements that apply to signatures and is therefore just as legally valid as a handwritten signature. 

Because the advanced electronic signature has a mathematically generated unique code, with which it can be checked whether the document is original and unaltered, falsification is virtually impossible. This means that the advanced electronic signature in almost all cases complies with legislation and regulations. 

The 'simple electronic signature' mentioned above is legally valid if the reliability of the sender is sufficiently established. An example of this is email within a company. 

Advanced and qualified signature valid throughout the EU

eIDAS (Electronic Identities and Trust Services) is an EU regulation ‘on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market’. With eIDAS, the various forms of digital signatures and digital transactions are mutually recognized by Member States. eIDAS therefore ensures that the same legislation applies in all EU countries when it comes to electronic signatures. In all EU countries, from 1 July 2016, the advanced ones, such as those in e-hours, and qualified electronic signatures are fully legally valid. These digital signatures have the same full legal validity everywhere as a 'wet ink' signature.

When do you use a simple electronic signature?

The simple electronic (scanned) signature is not as secure as its paper version. The simple electronic signature therefore does not comply with paragraph 2 of the Dutch Civil Code, in contrast to the advanced and qualified electronic signature. 

Although many organizations and institutions switch to the electronic signature, a 'wet' signature is sometimes still used, for example for a personal message. The signature can be valuable if, for example, a citizen becomes 100 years old and receives a letter from the mayor which contains a personal signature. The 'personal touch' that the handwritten signature adds can thus give emotional value to a document. However, writing these signatures requires additional actions. Instead, a simple electronic signature can offer a solution. This looks like it’s handwritten, but you simply add it digitally without having to perform extra actions. 

Making your own electronic signature

With iWRITER you can easily add signatures and certificates within your familiar Office environment. In order to ensure that all digital signatures, parapharms and certificates are authentic, the user can make one or more images of initials and signatures himself. If you use a touchscreen, you can place a signature directly on the screen and insert it. 

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