New laws governing electronic signatures come into force across the European Union today. The Electronic Identification and Signature (eIDAS) Regulation is intended to standardise the way e-signatures work.
The Regulation comes more than two years after the EU adopted the final draft of eIDAS, which is part of the Digital Single Market initiative and replaces the 1999 Electronic Signatures Directive.
eIDAS will enable, for example, students to enrol at a foreign university online, citizens to file online tax returns in another EU country, and businesses to participate electronically in public calls for tenders across the EU, according to the then European Commissioner Neelie Kroes.
The Regulation specifies the standards for electronic signatures, seals, timestamps and other forms of proof for authenticating electronic transactions with the same legal standing as transactions performed on paper.
EU member states must recognise electronic signatures that meet the standards of eIDAS, which requires them to create a common framework recognising electronic IDs from other member states.
The new Regulation has been broadly welcomed. "[eIDAS] will establish a more predictable regulatory framework for electronic transactions and boost cross-border e-commerce," said Richard Oliphant, EMEA general counsel at digital signature software specialist DocuSign.
"The European Commission felt that the e-Signatures Directive 1999 had not had the desired effect. It was implemented inconsistently across the 28 member states and this was hampering the Digital Single Market strategy.
"We welcome eIDAS. It will advance the Digital Single Market and we will see rising demand from businesses to use secure electronic signature platforms.
"One of the more significant features of eIDAS is that it will enable providers to use cloud technology so that customers can generate and validate electronic signatures on the move with their smartphone or tablet. I think this will really help drive the digital transformation of business in the UK and across the EU."
The EU is shifting towards the use of regulations rather than directives to make laws across the 28-country organisation because regulations are directly applicable in the legal systems of all member states.
Directives, in contrast, have to be translated into legislation in each country and then passed through national parliaments.
As a result, there has been widespread criticism that directives can be too variable from one EU member state to another, and the implementation of directives can be held up as a result of opposition in member states.
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