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Towards legal recognition of electronic signatures

The EU Directive on electronic signatures passed its second reading in the European Parliament on 27 October subject to several minor amendments proposed by the Legal Affairs Committee. Both the Council and the Commission have voiced support for these amendments and it is ther...
The EU Directive on electronic signatures passed its second reading in the European Parliament on 27 October subject to several minor amendments proposed by the Legal Affairs Committee. Both the Council and the Commission have voiced support for these amendments and it is therefore expected that European citizens will shortly enjoy legal recognition for electronic signatures.

As the business potential of e-commerce grows, it became increasingly apparent that some form of procedures to improve the security standards and the legal recognition of electronic signatures and certification services was needed. In fact such a framework is considered essential for consumer security and confidence.

The planned Directive, which began life as a Commission proposal in October 1998, is technologically neutral and thus open to future developments in authentication procedures. The essence of the proposal is that certain electronic signatures are legally recognised in the framework of statutory forms and the law of evidence.

The amendments adopted by the Parliament seek to clarify certain areas. The first is intended to make clear that the Directive shall not apply to closed systems which are based on voluntary contractual agreements under private law between a limited number of participants where there is no need for Community legislation.

Regarding the liability of providers of certification services, the amendments would ensure that certificates contain all the necessary requirements for a qualified certificate, and that it must be made clear where the limitations and the liability of certificate providers ends.

Once the Directive becomes law, electronic signatures accompanied by a valid certificate will have equivalent validity to handwritten signatures. This will enable secure electronic commerce within the European Union, which it is hoped will stimulate investment encouraging growth, employment and competitiveness.

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