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Electronic signature: aspects of use and legal effect

With the wave of sustainability, electronic signatures are increasingly replacing the traditional way of signing documents, providing convenience, speed and efficiency, both in business and in personal use. The main European Union and Lithuanian legislation governing the use of electronic signatures is the e-IDAS Regulation and the Law on Electronic Identification and Electronic Transaction Trust Services.

The essential function of an electronic signature is to identify the person who signed a document and to associate it with its content. The above-mentioned legislation distinguishes between three types of electronic signatures: simple, advanced and qualified.  

A qualified electronic signature provides the highest level of security and is equivalent to a handwritten signature.

Therefore, a qualified electronic signature must be used for the signature of documents for which a written form is required by law. Documents submitted to public authorities or organisations must also be signed with a qualified electronic signature. For example, if you intend to conclude a real estate transaction at the notary remotely, you will not be able to log in to the e-notary electronic system, unless you have a qualified electronic signature.

An advanced electronic signature, while providing a certain level of security, is not equivalent to a handwritten signature itself.

However, if an e-signature does not meet the requirements of a qualified electronic signature, its legal validity and its suitability as evidence in legal proceedings cannot be denied on that basis alone. The law provides that the legal effect of an electronic signature which does not comply with the requirements for a qualified electronic signature shall be equivalent to that of a written signature, provided that the users of the electronic signature have agreed in writing in advance and that it is possible to preserve this agreement on a durable medium. For example, if an employer intends to conclude an employment contract with an employee by means of advanced electronic signatures, the legal effect of such a signature will be equivalent to a handwritten signature, provided that the parties agree on its use in writing in advance.

In contrast, a simple electronic signature is the lowest level of security and cannot be linked in any way to the person who signed it, for example, writing a name in an e-mail.

In order to sign documents with a qualified electronic signature, it is necessary to have a qualified electronic signature certificate issued together with a qualified electronic signature creation device. This can be aquirred from a qualified certificate service provider of your choice. A list of such providers registered and supervised in Lithuania is available on the website of the Communications Regulatory Authority. Citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and foreign citizens with a residence permit in Lithuania are entitled to acquire a qualified electronic signature.

Qualified electronic signature can be aquirred:  

• Identity Documents Personalization Centre under the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania;
• Centre of Registers;
• From mobile operators.

The qualified electronic signature can be issued in various media (depending on the supplier that issued it), such as a USB key, a chip (ID card), a mobile signature (issued by a mobile operators), which is linked to a SIM card.

Whether a document has been signed with a qualified electronic signature can be checked the document signing platforms available on the website of the Communications Regulatory Authority.

In practice, it is recommended to use reliable and secure electronic signature devices and platforms that ensure a high level of reliability and comply with legal requirements. This allows to ensure not only the validity, but also the immutability and security of documents.

The use of electronic signatures is undoubtedly a much more sustainable way of creating documents, which offers flexibility and efficiency in the process of signing documents, allowing documents to be signed at any time and from any place. However, it is significant to be aware that their validity and recognition depend on the respective type of electronic signature and the agreement made between the parties.