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How does Electronic Signature Shaping the Digital Future of Europe?

European Union is one of the earliest adopters of the electronic signature way back in 2014 with the enactment of the Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (eIDAS) that came into effect by 2016.

It is one of the important and most essential steps to promote the digital economy internally within the nation-states and among the members of the EU. eIDas attains significance in the wake of accelerated consumer adoption of electronic commerce.

Having enacted the law, the EU has also taken measures to create a trusted internal market for the electronic signature services within the EU by promoting services including electronic signatures, electronic seals, time stamping, recorded electronic delivery, and website authentication. These gestures are critical in enforcing trust among the individuals, government, and business entities in the public and private sphere on the electronic signature. It is equally valid as the wet signature, using a paper and pen to sign a contract physically.

Defining Electronic Signature

Article 3(10) of the eIDas defines an electronic signature as “any data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign”.

Standard Electronic Signature

It is an electronic equivalent to a handwritten signature, which may be a typed name or biometric data like an iris. An individual signatory can either type his name or pick a computer-generated one in different fonts and styles. No independent third-party verification of the signatory takes place in this case.

Advanced Electronic Signature (AES)

AES is a more secured and highly sophisticated one where the service provider creates public-key cryptography (PKI) and inserts it as a code in the electronic document. Article 26 of the Regulation specifies the necessary legal framework for AES.

Qualified Electronic Signature (QES)

QES is the most secured and highly acceptable form of electronic signature in EU courts. The signature attains this name after the qualified electronic signature creation device that generates it. QES enjoys the highest level of admissibility in the EU courts and has the equivalent legal effect of a handwritten signature.

Digital Audit Trail

The below-mentioned elements add more value and authentication to the electronic signature.

Time Stamp– Registers the date and time when the signatory signs on a document. This would prove the document’s authenticity and that it has not tampered ever since the ‘signer’ acted on the document.

Digital seal– ensures that the document is verified and completely original.

eDelivery – Unlike the physical registered post, the document will be delivered electronically.

Legal validity– Since the electronic signature is a regulatory act of the legislature of the EU, it is valid for a cross-border electronic transaction.

Compliance- Electronic signature platforms comply with the EU norms, as eIDas governs them.

The above-mentioned measures allow the companies to conduct an independent digital audit to check whether or not the document is original.

Additional Legal Support

Neutral Technology: eIDas norms that govern the electronic signature tools and software remains neutral to technologies. The act remains unbiased and doesn’t act in favor of a specific technology or technology provider.

Customer Privacy and Data Security

Companies within the EU are all under the purview of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) act of 679/2016/EU. GDPR is meant to ensure customer privacy and data security. Companies that violate GDPR norms are liable for a maximum fine of up to £500,000 under the Data Protection Act 1998  or 4% of the company’s annual worldwide turnover and €20 million

Leading Electronic Signature Users Europe

The European Commission that monitors eIDas norms has conducted a survey in the year 2019 among the 27 member states of the EU along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, and published its report in March 2021.

The key findings of the study as flows;

  • 77% of the countries in the EU have accepted and integrated eIDas into their national laws.
  • 33% of the nation-states have used the electronic signature and the digital seal in the government portals.
  • 47% of the public sector and 53% of the private sector entities in Europe have used electronic signatures for their transaction.

Electronic Signature Service Providers Across EU

Europe is the second-largest market for electronic signature services. The European market is very dynamic and highly fragmented with niche service providers. These providers are not evenly distributed among the member countries.

of electronic signature service providers as follows;

Country No of Service Providers
Spain 36
France 24
Italy 22
Switzerland 1
Finland 1
Latvia 1
Cyprus 1
Iceland 1
The UK 0
Denmark 0

Source The European Commission

Major Public Sector Users of the Electronic Signature Software

Government offices 31%
Banks 24%
Energy Sector 4%

Technology Used for Electronic Signature

smart cards 39%
Remote signing 22%
USB tokens 19%
SIM card-based services 7%
Tokens 7%
Others 6%

Electronic Signature Adoption Trends in Europe

  • Banks, Financial service providers like venture capitalists and investment bankers, government services, and the healthcare sector are the primary adopters.
  • Popularity for app-based and cloud-based security solutions.
  • Rise in analytics and AI embedded platforms.
  • Preference for Mobile-first and smartphone-based usage.

Opportunities for the Electronic Signature in Europe

Given the size of Europe, the electronic signature market is yet to evolve completely. Since the government agencies are the major patrons followed by the business, the electronic signature software can expect sustainable growth in the marketplace. There is significant growth for the remote service providers with video authentication and validation this market is still evolving with very few service providers in this segment.

Challenges to the Electronic Signature Solutions

Lack of trust and awareness among vast sections of the population within the EU is a major challenge followed by stringent laws that regulate the EU market. Many technology giants including Apple and Google have faced the wrath of the European Commission and paid heavy penalties for violating GDPR norms and for anti-trust cases. There is no unanimity among the member countries related to electronic signature adoption. Yet, the electronic signature usage gathered significant momentum during the pandemic, the EU member states have embraced digital technologies awfully and digital transformation is almost complete in vast sections of retail consumer durables and perishables. The emerging eCommerce business may further expand the market size of electronic signatures in the future as consumers prefer online shopping and exit using mobiles.

Conclusion

According to an IDC expert estimation, 65% of the world GDP will be digitized by the end of 2022 and accelerates digital transformation. The electronic signature market is expected to grow further in Europe due to its easy-to-operate flexible services. It is gaining wider acceptance due to its validity and assurance to get customer privacy and data safety.

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