Electronic signature levels: What transactions are they suitable for?

Simple, advanced and qualified electronic signatures differ mainly in the legal certainty they offer. The higher the level of legal certainty, the more suitable a particular level of electronic signature is for securing transactions of higher value. Of course, there is also a difference in the process of verifying the identity of a person or entity when issuing a certificate for a given signature.

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#1 Simple (digital) signature

A simple electronic signature based on electronic data associated with the document serves to verify the identity of the person who signed the document. Although this digital signature is simple, of course it has legal effects. Due to the level of legal certainty it guarantees, it is particularly suitable for:

  • internal communication, in which it ensures the authenticity and inviolability of internal documents and reports,
  • client onboarding, where it facilitates the establishment of services through electronic interaction,
  • concluding contracts, especially less binding ones, which require authentication and verification of the integrity of the document,
  • conducting transactions in which it ensures trust and proof of authorship in financial operations and the conclusion of transactions.
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A simple digital signature is suitable for transactions with very low financial limits, usually worth tens to hundreds of euros, i.e. for example:

  • to change the flat rate,
  • changing the TV package,
  • simple verification of the person at the branch and the like.

A simple electronic signature can be considered anything that replaces a signature as such. Commonly available solutions use a certificate that is not identified with a person. As part of SAAS’s NFQES service, a signature page is added where the signer is identified based on their first name, last name, email address, verified phone number and IP address. A signature tablet or other signature technology can also be used, which will ensure the preservation of biometrics for possible later proof.

#2 Electronic signature

An electronic signature represents a basic level of authentication of a natural person, while it may not always provide strong proof of the signer’s identity.

According to the eiDAS regulation, this is an advanced electronic signature without a qualified status. Since it is one level lower than an advanced electronic signature with a qualified status, it is suitable for signing documents in situations that do not require a high degree of legal certainty, i.e. for example:

  • e-mail communication, where it helps prevent receiving fraudulent e-mails and verify the recipient,
  • personal documents – consent to the processing of personal data, terms of use on the website,
  • contractual documents that require a basic level of authentication, depending on the type of contract and legal requirements or the content of the document,
  • signature of requests – agreements, contracts, statements that do not require signing with a qualified electronic signature.
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An electronic signature is suitable for smaller transactions with a value of thousands to tens of thousands of euros, i.e. for example:

  • purchase of insurance, insurance contracts,
  • signing an installment agreement,
  • registration for gambling games and the like.

Simpler methods of verification can be used to identify the person signing, and that is either the verification of two identity documents or signing the application using an ID card with a chip.

#3 Advanced electronic signature

Compared to a simple signature, an advanced electronic signature provides a higher level of security. It uses special certificates issued by the certification authority, which provide clear evidence of the signature by the relevant person and guarantee the irrevocability of the signature.

An advanced electronic signature, in our case an advanced electronic signature with a qualified status, thus ensures higher legal certainty and trustworthiness of documents, which makes it especially suitable for:

  • business correspondence – signing of various documents, for example purchase and sale agreement, bank transactions, various official documents,
  • legal contracts and agreements – purchase contract, lease contract, cooperation contract, etc., if they do not require an exclusively qualified signature level,
  • financial transactions – loan agreement, credit agreement, leasing agreement and other financial documents,
  • international transactions – in compliance with specific legal requirements and international standards.
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The advanced electronic signature is suitable for transactions worth tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of euros, i.e. for example:

  • signing a leasing contract,
  • vehicle purchase contract,
  • B2B, B2C contracts and the like.

While a qualified electronic signature cannot be rejected as evidence in court, an advanced electronic signature is scrutinized. Just like an advanced electronic signature without qualified status, an advanced electronic signature with qualified status is at the level of a hand-signed signature and is subject to proof. If someone contradicts a handwritten signature, it must be examined by a handwriting expert. Similarly, with an advanced electronic signature, an expert from the field of information technology examines who issued the certificate, where the certificate was stored, who had access to it and whether they had exclusive access to it.

To issue a certificate for this type of signature, a personal meeting with the person in question or the use of another qualified means is not required. The certificate may or may not be stored on the QSCD device. The second authentication factor does not have to be a certified mobile application or token, it can also be biometric authentication, a phone call, and the like.

#4 Qualified electronic signature

Qualified electronic signature (QES) is the highest level of signature. To create it, qualified certificates are used, which are issued by trusted service providers for electronic signatures.

Thanks to QES, it is possible to unequivocally verify the identity of the signed entity, prove the immutability of the signed documents at the time of their signing, and the signed entity cannot claim that it did not make the signature. This signature has the legal force of a handwritten signature, and if it also includes a time stamp, it has the same legal weight as a notarized signature. Therefore, a QES with a qualified stamp cannot be rejected as evidence in court.

A qualified electronic signature is therefore suitable for:

  • legal actions – signing all important and legally binding documents that require the highest level of security and authenticity,
  • communication with the state and public authorities – submission of tax returns, customs declarations, proposals for registration in the commercial register, etc.,
  • communication in the private sector – contracts with customers, with partners, internal company reports, insurance contracts, employment contracts, invoices and the like.
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A qualified electronic signature is suitable for transactions without a financial limit and for communication with the state, i.e. for:

  • real estate transcripts,
  • company transcripts and the like.

A QC limit can be set in the certificate, which will limit the amount for which the certificate will be used.

A certificate with a qualified status is qualified according to the eiDAS regulation and must be stored on a QSCD device. It is therefore subject to high security and the device on which it is stored is certified. When issuing a certificate, it is necessary to verify the person with a high level of trust, which requires a personal meeting, the presentation of two identity documents, or another qualified means can be used (for example, an electronic ID card).

The author of the article is

Miroslav Rechtorík