Electronic signatures

11 August 2010

Marlena Wach, Cecylia Królikowska

Use of electronic signatures in Poland is still an uncommon practice among entrepreneurs, citizens and in public administration. In an attempt to encourage their use, the government has decided to prepare a new act and also amend the 18 September 2001 Act on electronic signatures.

The idea of the suggested changes to the existing act is to make the use of electronic signatures easier, cheaper and more common. The changes simplify definitions in line with EU regulations, in particular with European Directive 99/93/EC and recent decisions of the EU about the implementation of the Service Directive.

The main aims of the new act (the draft of which was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 27 April 2010) are to extend the directory of e-signatures and to reduce the cost associated with their use. According to the draft there will be three types of electronic signature: standard, advanced and qualified. The draft bill therefore introduces a new type of signature referred to as the “advanced signature”. Such a signature will be assigned only to the person who is signing the document and will enable the identification of that person and ensure the integrity of the signed data. “Advanced signatures” may be used either in combination with or separately from safety devices and qualified certificates under the name of the signature certified. Their use without safety devices and qualified certificates will, of course, reduce overall cost. The introduction of the “advanced signatures” will therefore enable a choice of e-signatures with varying levels of security.

Qualified signatures will enable communication with the administration or entrepreneurs of other countries. It will also be possible to send insurance documents from other EU countries to the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS).

The authors of the draft regulations also propose the introduction of electronic data stamping. This new service will be based on technology similar to the electronic signature. It aims to raise the credibility and integrity of transmitted messages. In the future it may be used for the automatic issuance of electronic certificates from public registers or mass invoicing.

The new regulation also abolishes the preliminary control and fees for the registration of entities that provide certification services in the field of e-signatures (under present provisions the fee is EUR 10,000).

Hopefully, the proposed solutions will assist in lowering the cost of e-signatures and popularise them among entrepreneurs and individuals. The increased use of e-signatures will also encourage firms to undertake activities that would positively affect the competitiveness of the Polish economy. However, there are still many challenges to be overcome concerning the adaptation of the informatics systems within public administration.

It is also worth noting that relevant amendments will also have to be made to other legislation – adjusting them to the use of electronic signatures. Without such changes, the use of electronic signatures will not have a chance to become common practice in Poland.

Before referring to the Polish Parliament, a draft of the act on electronic signatures will be submitted to the European Community.