Cloud consortium says simpler EU electronic signature rules aren't simple enough

Common rules for accepting electronic signatures across EU borders enter force on Friday, but technical differences will still make life difficult for users and vendors

European Union rules for electronic signatures change on Friday to make a clear distinction between the identity of the person signing, and that of the authority guaranteeing the integrity of the data, but the technology needs to be still simpler, vendors say.

The new rules are intended to simplify the process of electronically signing contracts between businesses, or between businesses and persons, and across international borders where different and often incompatible electronic signature rules apply today.

But while the new rules will simplify the legal environment, today's technical environment makes it too difficult to create and securely manage digital identities, according to the Cloud Signature Consortium.

Defining an electronic signature that satisfies the laws of 28 countries is one thing, but creating one that is accepted seamlessly by desktop applications such as Adobe Acrobat Reader and Microsoft Office, and by enterprise applications such as Salesforce, Workday, Microsoft Dynamics CRM or Ariba, is entirely another, according to the consortium.

The newly founded organization, led by Adobe Systems, is drafting a new technical standard that it hopes to publish by year-end and implement early next year.

Existing legislation, derived from the 1999 eSignature directive, allows certificates for electronic signatures to be granted to natural persons (people) and legal persons (organizations), and makes little distinction between authenticating the content of a document and expressing consent to that content.

That will change on July 1, when the 2014 eIDAS Regulation enters force.

From that date, only certificates issued to natural persons will be able to make electronic signatures (eSignatures) that are legally binding. Those issued to legal persons will only be valid for guaranteeing the integrity of documents (eSeals).

The new legislation thus makes a clear distinction between the two colloquial uses of the term "digital signature," for the quite different processes of guaranteeing the integrity of a document and of agreeing to its content.

The eIDAS Regulation applies to businesses and not to European Union bodies such as the Commission or Parliament, despite their role in creating it. However, when the regulation was approved in October 2014, Neelie Kroes, then European Commission vice president, called on incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to make every transaction with the Commission and other EU institutions possible electronically.

"Whether you're bidding for an EU procurement contract or submitting your invoice for payment, it should be possible to do it completely online, without having to resort to piles of paperwork -- or indeed any -- from the beginning to the end of the process," she said.

Like other EU regulations, eIDAS automatically becomes directly applicable, without the need for new national laws, in all EU member states within two years of its approval.

That means it will apply in the U.K., too. And should the government there choose to heed the message of last week's referendum to end its EU membership, the regulation will continue to apply for two years from the date of the U.K.'s notification of its intention to leave the EU. After that, unless the U.K. government and the European Commission have agreed otherwise, it will not be possible to make legally binding agreements using eIDAS-compliant eSignatures between a U.K. person and an EU person.

Adobe and its consortium partners want their new specification to bridge far more than just the EU-U.K. divide. Their ambition is to have their specification adopted globally, by making it compliant with the most demanding electronic signature regulations in the world.

So far, though, Adobe seems the one most likely to profit from that ambition, as it is the only member of the consortium with a global reach. The others hail from EU member states Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain, and from neighboring Norway and Switzerland, and include German state printer Bundesdruckerei, Infocert in Italy, and Docapost/Certinomis in France.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?