EU Regulation on eSignatures Proposed

The EU already has electronic signature legislation, introduced as Directive 1999/93/EC on a ‘Community framework for electronic signatures’. An EU Directive, however, merely tells the individual member nations what laws they must enact, not how they should be enacted. The result is that the subsequent laws differ in detail between the different countries and may actually be incompatible with each other. An EU Regulation is more formal in specifying precisely what must be enacted, and is used to harmonize laws between the countries (just as the new Data Protection Regulation is intended to harmonize the different implementations of the earlier Data Protection Directive throughout Europe).

The existing electronic signature directive effectively covers only electronic signatures. The aim of the new Regulation ‘is to enhance existing legislation and to expand it to cover the mutual recognition and acceptance at EU level of notified electronic identification schemes and other essential related electronic trust services.’

“People and businesses,” explained EC vice president Neelie Kroes, “should be able to transact within a borderless Digital Single Market, that is the value of Internet. Legal certainty and trust is also essential, so a more comprehensive eSignatures and eIdentification Regulation is needed. This proposal will mean you can make the most of your e-ID, if you have one.”

The announcement says that the Regulation ‘allows countries with e-ID to opt-in or to remain outside of the European scheme.’ It also stresses what it is not – in fact it lists what the Regulation will not do, before it lists the benefits. It will not oblige member states to introduce, nor individuals to obtain, any form of national ID card; it will not introduce a European eID nor any kind of European database; nor will it ‘enable or require the sharing of personal information with other parties.’ It is clear from this that the EC expects this Regulation to be controversial.

Stated beneficiaries of harmonized eSignatures include students wishing to register with a foreign university; couples marrying or filing tax returns in a different country; and patients needing medical assistance while abroad. Companies could tender for public sector contracts anywhere in the EU electronically; and governments ‘could reduce administrative burdens and increase efficiency, better serving their citizens and saving taxpayers' money.’

“With mutual recognition of national e-IDs and common standards for trust services and eSignatures,” said Commissioner Kroes, “we can prevent a national carve-up of the Internet and online public services and make life easier for millions of businesses and even more citizens.”

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