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Electronic signature

Electronic signature, such as scanned handwritten signatures, biometric signatures and bank card codes, are an alternative for traditional signatures, they can make the administrative process much easier and faster.

To use this instrument, we need to have a good knowledge of the different kinds of electronic signatures, and in the situation when each is most accorded.

What is an electronic signature?

The law of 13 February 2014 relating to electronic communication, in context of relations with the public authorities of the brussels- capital region, allows administrations to dematerialize their procedures.

Before choosing to dematerialize the procedures, the boards need to think about what that entails. After all, more questions occur, including one that interest us: that of the signature

If a board decides to switch to electronic communication by, for example, creating online forms, It is not the intention to print it off afterwards and continue the process on paper. To truly dematerialize a procedure, it must be done from the beginning to the end: the submission of the application, its receive by the administration,  the processing of the permits and the communication of the decision.

It wouldn’t make sense that the document that the applicant is about to receive would be printed out by the authorized staff member within the board to hand-sign and then re-scanned afterwards. The same goes for submitting the application: how can the applicant sign the form after it has been completed online?

An electronic signature doesn’t give a “visual representation” like a handwritten signature. The electronic signature is a sequence of characters, of “data in electronic form attached to or logically linked to other data in electronic form and used by the signatory to sign”. (art. 3 §10 of the eIDAS regulation)

This definition includes scanned handwritten signatures, biometric signatures (e.g. voice recognition, iris scans, digital fingerprints), as well as simple bank card codes.

But all those signatures are not equal, and don’t offer the same guarantees. Depending on the satisfied requirements and the associated level of assurance, an electronic signature can be “simple”, “advanced” or “qualified”.

What are the important criteria’s to keep in mind?

  • AUTHENTICATION

The purpose of authentication (or identification) is to confirm the identification of a natural or legal person, or the origin and integrity of data in electronic form. So can we link a signature to a specific person.

  • INTEGRITY

The integrity of data refers to the fact that data during its processing or transmission can’t be intentionally or accidentally changed or destroyed in any way. The ensuring from the integrity of data means that we assure the recipient that a document has not been modified after it has been signed.

  • NON-REPUDIATION 

The principle of non-repudiation  (or non-discrimination) means that the electronic signature cannot be refused by a judge because of its electronic nature. Whether it is equated with a handwritten signature or a simple beginning of proof (see later in the text), it cannot be refused.

  • CERTIFICATION

The certification is provided by an accredited service provider (often called “certifying third party” or “trusting third party” in Belgium) and adds a quality guarantee related on the one hand to the supervision of the resources and processes applied by the certifying authority and on the other hand to the conformity of the signature creation tool.

What types of signatures are possible ?

As mentioned above, there are several types of electronic signatures (simple, advanced, qualified), and they do not all offer the same guarantees.

  • The simple electronic signature corresponds, for example, to applying a scanned handwritten signature to a document. It meets the criteria of non-repudiation, but not the other three criteria (authentication, integrity and certification).
  • The advanced electronic signature is one where technical links are made between the signed data, the signature and the signer. These technical links make it possible to guarantee the integrity of the data, the identification and the non-repudiation of the signature. On the other hand, it does not rely on a certification service.
  • The qualified electronic signature is the most secure electronic signature because it meets the four criteria defined above (authentication, integrity, non-repudiation and certification). This means that she has used an accredited service provider (trusted third party). It has been equated to a “real handwritten signature”.

And  juridic?

Although the eIDAS Regulation provides that an electronic signature may not be refused as evidence in legal proceedings solely on the basis that the signature is “electronic”, only the qualified signature is legally equated with a handwritten signature, with all the legal consequences that associated with the handwritten signature.

In concrete terms, the electronic signature means a reversal of the burden of proof. Those who want to question the qualified electronic signature will have to prove that it is fake.

The guide for the electronic signature

To help you choose the type of signature, easy.brussels has prepared a guide to electronic signatures.

What will I find in this guide?

  • A presentation of the electronic signature;
  • A description of the three types of signatures and their application;
  • Recommedations

How do I get my administration to use the electronic signature?

The guide is available through this link. Do not hesitate to share it with your colleagues and especially with the decision-making body within your board.

Helpdesk

If you have any questions, please contact easy.brussels at [email protected]