Directive on electronic signatures

United Kingdom

Directive 1999/93 on a Community framework for electronic signatures has now been published. As expected, it applies the internal market principle of free movement to facilitate the use of electronic signatures and to contribute to their legal recognition. It expressly does not apply to aspects related to the conclusion and validity of contracts or other legal obligations where there are formal requirements under EC or national law.

The Directive distinguishes between “electronic signature” and “advanced electronic signature”. The latter is uniquely linked to, identifies, and is controlled by, the signatory, whereas the former serves as a method for authentication through its link with other electronic data. Four annexes set out the requirements for qualified certificates, for certification-service-providers issuing qualified certificates and for secure signature-creation device, and recommendations for secure signature verification.

Member States are required by the Directive to ensure that electronic signatures have the same effect as hand-written signatures and are admissible on evidence, and that signature-certification providers are liable for inaccuracies in case of negligence.

Under the Directive, Member States are prevented from making the provisions of certification services subject to prior authorisation, but must apply national measures adopted under the Directive to certify service providers and their services. However, they are allowed to introduce voluntary accreditation schemes aiming at enhanced levels of certification-service provision. These schemes have to be notified to the Commission and to the other Member States. The deadline for transposition of the Directive by the Member States is 19 July 2001. The operation of the Directive will be reviewed by the Commission in July 2003 (OJ L13, 19.01.00).