Growing importance of electronic signature during the COVID-19 epidemic

Precautions used both in Poland and around the world to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) cause many of us to stay at home. This forces us to do more and more legal transactions over the Internet, which makes the electronic signature (e-signature) increasingly important.

What is an electronic signature?

An electronic signature is the collective term used to describe all technical, organisational and legal tools for certifying the authenticity and legal effect of documents in electronic form. Under Polish law, the electronic signature is governed by the Act on Services and Electronic Identification of 5 September 2006, which is a national implementation of Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014, called the eIDAS Regulation.

What is the difference between a qualified and a non-qualified signature?

A qualified electronic signature is a specific form of advanced signature that meets the conditions set out in the eIDAS Regulation. A qualified signature is created by a secure-signature-creation device that utilizes a digital certificate and allows for the verification of the identity of the person signing. This device is purchased from certified suppliers supervised by the Ministry of Digital Affairs. The list of suppliers can be found on the website of the National Certification Centre (NCCert. pl).

Any electronic signature which does not meet the conditions set out in the eIDAS Regulation is considered to be a non-qualified signature. The distinction, as discussed below, is very important from the perspective of legal consequences that these two types of e-signature create.

What are the legal effects of electronic signature?

The eIDAS Regulation states that a qualified electronic signature provides the same legal standing as a handwritten signature. This principle is confirmed in Article 781 of the Civil Code, pursuant to which the declaration of will made in electronic form and bearing a qualified (i.e. based on a valid certificate) electronic signature, is equivalent to a declaration of will made in writing. The situation is somewhat different for non-qualified signatures, the validity of which is not dependent on a certificate, but at the same time, the effects of which are limited to those foreseen by the parties to a given legal action.

Where does the electronic signature apply?

An electronic signature (mostly in a qualified form) may be used to execute many types of legal and actual acts, including signing civil law contracts (including but not limited to sale contracts, loan contracts, service contracts, order contracts, and employment contracts), making declarations of will, issuing invoices, signing financial statements, submitting forms, applications and other documents to different public administration institutions, bodies, and offices, as well as making bids.

One should, however, remember that this article is for information purposes only and under no circumstances constitutes a legal opinion or advice. If you want to sign a document with an electronic signature, you should first make sure that it is not required to maintain an appropriate form of legal action and what elements should be included in the content of the document.

For more detailed information or legal assistance, contact DT’s lawyer.

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2020-04-02 18:04

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