With the electronic signature, the act of signing enters the 21st century. It is no longer just a gesture that of signing with a steady hand – but a mechanism that both validates the signer’s consent and guarantees the integrity of the document (i.e. its precise state) at the time the digital signature is affixed using cryptography, making it much more secure than its handwritten equivalent. In doing so, the electronic signature can be used for any purpose:
- Signing a dematerialized document,
- Respond to calls for tender,
- Secure emails,
- Paying invoices,
- Accessing secure digital platforms,
- Make tax or social declarations,
The electronic signature participates in the dematerialization of processes and contributes to reinforce its advantages.
The benefits of the electronic signature
The electronic signature is part of a logic of dematerialization of the company’s processes. It therefore has well-known advantages: reduction of processing times (no need to go back and forth to sign documents in paper format), simplification of exchanges (everything is done online by users who may be separated by thousands of kilometers) and reduction of costs (elimination of physical media and procedures related to the sending of documents). In addition to these general benefits, the electronic signature adds another essential one : it is irrevocable, unalterable and unforgeable. It guarantees not only the identity of the signatory (by means of an electronic certificate) but also the integrity of the signed document by sealing it at the time the signature is affixed. In addition, its simplicity of use makes it a conversion lever.
The electronic signature of documents
The act of signing requires the conjunction of three components : the person who signs, the document to be signed, and the tool allowing to do it. For a handwritten signature, the tool in question is a simple pen. But what about an electronic signature ? For that, it is necessary to use an electronic signature software. This tool is composed of two elements: on the one hand, an electronic certificate containing the information relative to the signatory, and on the other hand, a signature engine in charge of recovering the data of the certificate and of affixing them on the document to be signed. This process identifies the signatory of the document, validates his consent, and gives the electronic signature an irrefutable legal value.
Documents that can be signed electronically
Today, electronic signature concerns all types of documents : estimates, invoices, contracts, amendments, purchase orders, services, partnerships, confidentiality agreements, SEPA direct debit mandates, emails, etc. Moreover, a large number of formats are taken into account, which means that it is possible to electronically sign a Word document as well as a PDF, for example. Please note, however, that the Civil Code (Article 1175) provides for restrictions regarding certain acts relating to family and inheritance law, or personal or real securities of a civil or commercial nature. Please note that national legislation may differ from that of the issuing country ; it is therefore essential to find out in advance if you are working with foreign partners or clients.
The legal value of an electronic signature
Does an electronic signature have the same legal value as its handwritten equivalent? The question is legitimate and requires a clear answer. The law of March 13, 2000, which introduced the digital signature into French law, gave it the same value as the handwritten signature. Thus, it gives the signatory’s consent and engages his responsibility in the same way, provided that it is made by means of a “reliable identification process [that guarantees] its link with the act to which it is attached” (Civil Code, Article 1367). The dematerialized signature has evidentiary value in all EU member states under the eIDAS regulation adopted on July 23, 2014.