During the last few years, electronic signatures have seen a huge rise as they offer a plethora of benefits, namely time saving and reducing costs. However, the question what electronic signatures really are remains.
In general, electronic signatures are a broad category of methods for signing a document. This category encompasses many types of eSignatures, one category of which are digital signatures. A digital signature is a specific type of electronic signature that complies with the strict legal regulations, securely associating a signer with a document and providing the highest level of assurance of a signer’s identity. Additionally, digital signatures use a standard, accepted format- the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)- to provide the highest levels of security. By using this technology, digital signatures utilize an international, well-understood, standards-based technology that also helps to prevent forgery or changes to the document after signing.
Electronic signatures are defined in the eIDAS (electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services) Regulation, which is an EU Regulation on a set of standards for electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the Single European Market, established by EU Regulation 910/2014 of 23 July 2014 on electronic identification. The eIDAS Regulation is technology neutral and defines three types of electronic signature: the Qualified Electronic Signature (QES), the Advanced Electronic Signature (AES) and the Simple Electronic Signature (SES).
However, recital 49 of the Regulation allows national law to set requirements regarding which type of electronic signature may be required in which circumstances. In particular, the use of digital signature technology for eSignatures varies significantly between countries that follow open eSignature law, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, and those which follow tiered eSignature models that are based on digital signature technology, including many countries in the European Union, South America and Asia.
Regarding the three aforementioned types of electronic Signature, SES is typically used for HR documents, such as full-time employment contracts and non-disclosure agreements, commercial agreements between corporate entities, consumer agreements, intellectual property licenses and other.
On the other hand, AES is used for high-value transactions, as it includes additional user authentication steps: a signer will be asked to produce a valid document to confirm their identity, as well as a unique access code after the signing process. Advanced signatures also require a digital certificate to be generated and attached to the envelope as part of the transaction. Hence, because of these additional features, AES can reliably identify the signer and establish a unique link between the signature and the signer.
Last but not least, QES is a specific digital signature implementation that has met the particular specifications of a government, including using a secure signature creation device, and been certified as “qualified” by either that government or a party contracted by that government. It offers the highest level of trust through a face-to-face ID verification process by a Qualified Trust Service Provider and the resulting digital certificate created with an electronic signature device. This process unquestionably establishes the validity of the signature process.
As a result, QES includes all the secure features that AES provides by: a) having the ability to uniquely identify and link its signatory to the electronic signature, b) allowing the signatory to have sole control of the keys used to create the electronic signature, c) identifying if the data has been tampered with after its accompanying message has been signed and d) invalidating the signature if signed data has been altered in any manner. Hence, it is understood that QES are ideal for highly regulated transactions.
Some examples of QES use are for termination of employment agreements, consumer loan agreements, conclusion of collective labor agreements and other. Under eIDAS Regulation, a QES has the same legal effect as a handwritten signature, recognized by all EU member states, as defined in Article 25(2 & 3). Countries with a tiered legal model recognize QES as a distinct type of digital signature, which means that documents signed with QES are presumed authentic and immediately accepted as evidence in court. There are many QES examples in Europe. Depending different needs and locations, DocuSign or a trusted third-party partner can be chosen. Depending on the country, DocuSign also supports QES signatures for “signer-held” digital certificates issued by a trusted Certificate Authority, installed in devices such as smart cards, USB drives or on their personal computer.
As an EU member-country, Greece has legally recognized eSignatures since 2001, with The Presidential Decree 150/2001 regarding Electronic Signatures, established after the implementation of the EU Directive in 1999.
In the Greek national law system, article 50 of the Law 4727/2020 “Legal validity of electronic signatures and seals” defines the following: “electronic documents issued by a legal person or legal entity shall be signed with the approved electronic signature of their legal representative, and the approved electronic seal of para. 27 of Article 3 of the eIDAS Regulation, where the latter is required. In the above documents, the authorized electronic signature of the legal representative and the authorized electronic seal shall take the place of the handwritten signature and the original seal respectively”.
What is more, as a Tiered eSignature Legal Model country, Greece supports the concept of Qualified Electronic Signatures, requiring independent accreditation for those signatures by an approved certification body. While QES is only legally required for limited types of transactions, Greece, as a member of the European Union, follows ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) standards to define the technical requirements for a QES. In compliance with the EU Regulation No. 910/2014 on Electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market, Greece maintains a publicly accessible list of supervisory bodies for qualified certificated providers together with other countries in the European Union.
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Athens, January 2021