Lately, there has been a lot buzz around the electronic signature and its role in digitizing processes, but there are other digital tools available that can help companies manage and secure their documents, such as the electronic seal. So, what exactly is an electronic seal and how it differs form an electronic signature?
Electronic seal – ensuring data origin and integrity for corporate documents
The electronic seal is both a legal concept and a digital service regulated in eIDAS directive. It is specific to legal entities, whether they are large enterprises, small companies, public institutions or non-profit organisations. It is generally described as an electronic signature for legal persons or as the digital equivalent of a company rubber stamp. Concretely, it secures the content of the documents, being able to detect any later modifications within the document. It also provides reliable information and court-admissible evidence about the company which issued the seal, its legal representative and digital certificate linked to the e-seal.
Advanced and qualified electronic seals
An electronic seal shares many common traits with an electronic signature as defined in eIDAS. They both rely on similar technology and legal requirements. For example, the advanced electronic seal that must fulfil the same requirements as an advanced e-signature (see Section 5, article 36 of eiDAS):
- It is uniquely linked to the creator of the seal;
- It is capable of identifying the creator of the seal;
- It is created using electronic seal creation data that the creator of the seal can, with a high level of confidence under its control, use for electronic seal creation; and
- It is linked to the data to which it relates in such a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable.
Furthermore, just as a qualified e-signature, a qualified e-seal is based on a qualified certificate issued by a Qualified trust Service Provider (QTSP) published in the EU Trust List. It enjoys the “the presumption of integrity of the data and of correctness of the origin of that data to which the qualified electronic seal is linked” (Section 5, article 35, eIDAS). In addition, a qualified e-seal is acknowledged and accepted equally within all EU member states regardless of which member state issued it.
Electronic seal vs electronic signature: which one is better?
One of the most common fears of the professionals is that an e-seal is not as good as an e-signature. As mentioned above, the electronic seal enjoys the same status all over European Union member states as electronic signature. There is no question about which one is better or weaker. It is a question of what type of documents companies would need to sign electronically. How often and how many? Do they really need the consent over the documents’ content from different signers or they simply have to protect the existing content? An electronic seal simply answers different business needs than an electronic signature.
An electronic signature addresses natural persons and it is an expression of the consent or approval given by the signer over the content of the documents. When using the advanced and qualified level, it can also guarantee up to a high level of confidence the identity of the signer and the integrity of the document. An electronic seal addresses solely legal entities and is used to ensure data origin and integrity.
An electronic signature requires a manual action from the signer (the act of applying an individual signature on the document), while the electronic seal be applied automatically on multiple documents at once. It is a service that runs in the back-end taking care of important volumes of documents in just a few moments.
These solutions can also complement each other. You can even apply them both on the same document. Let’s take the case of a contract: companies, through their legal designated representatives, sign electronically a multi-page contract including annexes. The electronic signature serves to prove that all parties agree over the terms and conditions. The electronic seal would serve to protect the annexes from further changes after the contract has been signed.
What type of documents can be sealed electronically?
- electronic invoices
- medical reports
- financial reports
- insurance premiums and contracts
- official publications
E-seals can be used to seal any type of digital data, not just PDF versions of common documents. It may secure software codes or servers, satellite images, cadastral plans, in fact any type of data prone to be appropriated or modified.
InfoCert and LuxTrust are both Certificate Authorities and provide advanced and qualified e-seal as well as a number of related services. If you are looking to find more about our e-seal services, do not hesitate to get in touch.
Disclaimer: The above represents LuxTrust’s understanding of the relevant law or regulation and should not be taken, relied on or interpreted as a legal opinion. Customers are encouraged to seek independent legal advice before acting on this information.