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What is a signature ?

Article 1316-4 of the civil code defines the handwritten or electronic signature as follows: “The signature necessary for the accomplishment of a legal act identifies the person who affixes it. It manifests the consent of the parties to the obligations arising from this act. When it is affixed by a public officer, it confers authenticity on the act. “

What is an electronic signature or eSignature?

The electronic signature consists in the use of a reliable identification process which guarantees its link with the act to which it is attached.

The reliability of this process is based on: the creation of the signature, the authentic identity of the signatory as well as the guaranteed integrity of the act.

Whether it is handwritten or electronic, a person’s signature is a distinctive sign that is specific to her/him and which engages the signatory.

What is the purpose of an electronic signature certificate?

Electronic signature certificates are nominative and issued to a single person to confirm her/his commitment. The holder of a signature certificate who signs a document is the only one who can use it and is therefore personally committed.

What is the legal value of a signature?

Whether it is handwritten or electronic, a signature has the same legal value. Its purpose is to identify the person who affixes it and to express her/his agreement.

The electronic signature also offers the possibility of guaranteeing the integrity of the signature act.

What is the principle governing the electronic signature?

The modalities for guaranteeing the reliability of an electronic signature  are defined by the article 1316-4 of the Civil Code. The principle which governs it is based on the use of asymmetric cryptography (private and public keys) and a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

What are the three "security" functions of the electronic signature?

The electronic signature is a cryptographic process that relies on 3 functions;

  1. the identification of the signatory
  2. recording of her/his will to adhere to the signed act
  3. guaranteeing the integrity of the document to which the signature applies
What are the levels (simple, advanced and qualified) of electronic signatures?

There are 3 levels of electronic signature, which are defined by the eIDAS regulation;

  1. The “simple” electronic signature is defined as “data in electronic form that is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and that is used by the signatory to sign”.

(Thus, simply writing your name under an e-mail may constitute an electronic signature).

  1. The “advanced” electronic signature is an additional uniquely linked electronic signature, capable of identifying the signer, created to allow the signer to maintain control and ensure detection of any subsequent changes to the document. Most commonly, a public key infrastructure “PKI” (involving the use of certificates and cryptographic keys) is used to meet these requirements.
  2. The “qualified” electronic signature is an advanced electronic signature that is additionally created by a qualified signature creation device (QSCD) and is based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures.
Do I need a qualified electronic signature?

Given the variety of contractual contexts, different levels of electronic signatures may be appropriate.

However, qualified electronic signatures are the only ones that are explicitly recognized as having the equivalent legal effect of handwritten signatures in all EU member states.

What are the legal effects of an electronic signature ?

The legal effects of electronic signatures are defined in all EU Member States by Article 25 of the eIDAS Regulation

Whether simple, advanced or qualified, an electronic signature cannot be denied legal effect and admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings solely because it is in electronic form or because it does not meet the requirements for qualified electronic signatures.

Qualified electronic signatures, on the other hand, explicitly have the equivalent legal effect of handwritten signatures in all EU member states.

What is an electronic time stamp and do I need one ?

An electronic timestamp is defined as data in electronic form that links other electronic data to a particular point in time to establish proof that such data existed at that point in time.

A timestamp can be qualified under eIDAS. In accordance with the requirements of this regulation, a qualified electronic timestamp has the presumption of the accuracy of the date and time it indicates and the integrity of the data (e.g. on a signed document) to which the date and time are linked

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