EU has adopted a new Regulation which establishes a new, comprehensive, legal framework for e-signatures, as well as e-identification, e-seals, e-timestamp, e-documents, e-delivery services, and website authentication which applies from the 1st of July 2016, replacing the Directive on Electronic Signatures (1999/93/EC). The importance of this Regulation is that unlike the previous Directive on Electronic Signatures (1999/93/EC), it is directly applicable in all 28 EU Member States without any need of being transposed into national law. Hence its implementation plays a direct effect in the Maritime field.
Legal effects of electronic signatures
As per Article 25 of the New Regulation an electronic signature shall not be denied legal effect and admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings solely on the grounds that it is in an electronic form or that it does not meet the requirements for qualified electronic signatures. Furthermore, a qualified electronic signature shall have the equivalent legal effect of a handwritten signature and shall be based on a qualified certificate issued in one Member State, and shall be recognized as a qualified electronic signature in all other Member States.
Furthermore, the Regulation defines three levels of e-Signatures: e-Signature, advanced e-Signature, and qualified e-Signature which have the following meaning:
(i) E-Signature is defined as data in electronic form which are attached to, or logically associated with, other electronic data, which are used by the signatory to sign.
(ii) Advanced electronic signature is defined as uniquely linked to the signatory, capable of identifying the signatory, and created using e-signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under his sole control.
(iii) Qualified electronic signatures defined as an advanced electronic signature created by a qualified electronic signature creation device. This type of e-signature is based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures, which is issued by a qualified trust service provider.
Another important aspect of the said Regulation is that it includes a definition of trust services covering a wide range of electronic services, including electronic signatures, electronic time stamps and website authentication. The providers of trust services will be liable if they fail to comply with the security measures introduced by the regulations and as such each EU member states is required to establish a supervisory authority to supervise and oversee the work of qualified trust service providers.
Amongst the above changes there are also additional important changes made, and in conclusion this new Regulation has major benefits mainly that it creates greater confidence in cross-border online transactions and mainly the fact that electronic documents and signatures that adhere to the Regulation will not be denied legal status solely on the grounds that they are in electronic form. The new Regulation will ensure uniformity across the EU and will address the existing problem of different national rules on electronic signatures, which is due to every member state implementing the law individually.