The legal validity of the Universign electronic signature

What is an electronic signature?

The legislation (and especially European Directive 1999/93/EC of 13 December 1999) defines the electronic signature as data in electronic form which are attached to or logically associated with other electronic data and which serve as a method of authentication.

Today any written electronic document is accepted as evidence on the same account as a written document on paper, provided that the person it comes from can be duly identified and that this electronic document is established and kept in appropriate conditions so as to guarantee its integrity. The Universign electronic signature has been developed to be in perfect compliance with this legal frame.

What are the demands to give a legal force to an electronic signature?

The consequence of the texts mentioned above is that an electronically signed document only has a real legal value if:

  • its integrity in time - in other words its absence of modification - is ensured. This demand can guard against any contradiction related to the content of the document such as the terms of a contract. This property is fully guaranteed with Universign.
  • the identity of the signatory can be clearly established by a third party. This property is more difficult to ensure completely as an identity - even regalia - is never a 100% reliable. On this point, our strategy consists in constantly improving our process in order to offer an even more reliable identification to Universign users.

Can Universign guarantee the integrity of electronically signed documents?

Yes, it can. Indeed, every electronic signature carried out by Universign contains a time-stamping seal, which constitutes a formal proof of the document integrity. This proof is embedded in a PDF document. A time-stamping seal guarantees the existence of a file at a given time and also that not a single bit of this file has been modified since this date. Thus this cryptographical process ensures the integrity of the document within time. This aspect is very important as the dispute over a document subject to contract generally concerns more the content of the signed document (the price of a guarantee or service, a contract clause) than the signing of the contract.

Universign is a time-stamping authority ETSI TS 102 023 certified at European level and accepted by Adobe Reader as a trustworthy authority. In other words, there is no platform as fully complete giving the opportunity to prove the integrity of a document in a sensitive legal context.

Can Universign guarantee the identity of one or more signatories?

Yes, it can. Indeed, Universign offers today two types of signatures combined with two types of the signatories’ identification.

The “simple” electronic signature

The “simple” electronic signature, configured in a standard way in our electronic signature service, allows the signatory to avoid using an electronic certificate. This type of signature consists in identifying the signatory by collecting a maximum of elements proving his/her identity if necessary.

Among these elements of evidence, are admitted:

  • information (name and address) provided by the person who signs or makes it signed;
  • the signatory’s e-mail address checked when invited to sign;
  • the handwritten signature drawn thanks to the mouse at the time of the setting-up of the electronic signature;
  • the identity authentication by SMS;
  • the IP addresses and other logs.

To which a significant amount of information can be added and collected by yourself:

  • data input such as first name, surname, login, password on your website if you use it through API
  • a payment (even a token payment) on your site (API mode)
  • any other information (e-mail exchanges, voice messages, etc.)

The legal force of an electronically signed document through this method is good. However the approval remains in the judge’s hands.

The electronic signature with certificate

This process of electronic signature requires the acquisition of an electronic certificate. This approach obliges the signatory to physically go to a Certification Authority for a face-to-face identity authentication. For this step, the future user shows his ID documents to have a certificate issued. In case of a qualified signature, this electronic certificate will be issued on a physical device to create the electronic signature (a cryptographic flash drive for example). This electronic certificate costs a significant amount of money (several hundreds of Euros). Thanks to this process, the signatory’s identification and the legal security are optimum. By way of compensation, these constraints are important and exclusive in many cases. Nevertheless, you can activate this type of signature in the advanced options of the service “Sign here”.

Can a system of “simple” electronic signature online guarantee for certain the identity of one or more signatories?

No, it can’t. Neither Universign nor any other solution offering certificate-free electronic signature services online can fully guarantee the signatory’s identity. Having said that, the situation is identical for a remotely handwritten signature. When you send a document through the Post to be signed by a client, you can never be sure that he is the one who actually signs it.

Can all the documents and contracts be signed via a certificate-free electronic signature?

No, they can’t. As seen above, if the risks of contestation of your contracts are high (will, life insurance, etc) or lie in the identity of one or more signatories, it is not recommended to have your contracts signed online with a Universign simple signature. However, if the risks of contestation of your contracts are weak or lie at the level of the content of the document, then the Universign electronic signature is the best possible option.

What type of documents can I sign with Universign simple signature?

The insurance contracts are a good example: in case of accident, the signatory will not want to contest the electronic signature of his/her contract but rather the amount of the insurance guarantee for example. More generally with Universign simple signature, you can have a great deal of documents signed such as:

  • quotes/purchase orders
  • lease contracts
  • the minutes of the general assembly meeting
  • attendance sheet
  • surgery reports
  • etc.

How to fully secure the legal force of signed documents with the Universign simple electronic signature?

The agreement as to proof is a contract signed between companies or between companies and individuals which is meant to define the types of evidence acceptable between parties, the legal burden of proof and the clauses of disputes settlement over evidence.

It gives the possibility to ensure the legal force of the documents developed by a solution of electronic signature and to organize a reversal of the burden of proof. Before using Universign with your customers and regular partners, you can conventionally reach an agreement with them to recognize the legal force of the deal finalized with Universign.

What should you do in case of a dispute over the electronic signature of a document?

If you meet a bone of contention on one contract of yours, the judge will be expected to receive the document signed electronically as evidence. He will ask you to provide him with the PDF document signed electronically embedded with the Universign time-stamping seal on a flash drive. He can possibly ask for further information to Cryptolog (elements proving the identity of one or more signatories and logs of the platform) and/or to yourself (user’s personal information). These elements will allow him to analyze the validity of the electronic signature at best.