Qualified Digital Signature - a Definition
As the name suggests, the qualified digital signature is executed digitally, not in the traditional handwritten form. It can be understood as a bundle of data required to confirm the signing of a digital document. Asymmetric cryptography is used for the highest level of security. The person signing the contract possesses a private key that they control exclusively and use for confirming every digital signature.
From a technical point of view, the qualified digital signature is a mathematical code that guarantees a signed document cannot be altered. From an institutional perspective, a Trust Service Provider (TSP) ensures the authenticity of the electronic signature by issuing a digital certificate. The qualified electronic signature provides the highest existing level of security and is equivalent to a handwritten signature in accordance with § 126 of the German Civil Code.
Two Indispensable Characteristics of Every Digital Signature
The qualified digital signature possesses all the characteristics of an advanced digital signature and additionally features the following:
Secure Signature Creation Device (SSCD):
This is software or hardware that can be used to create the qualified digital signature. It is based on Regulation No 910/2014 of the European Parliament and the Council. The Secure Signature Creation Device ensures the uniqueness and confidentiality of each signature key.
A Complex Registration Procedure:
Confirming the identity of the signature is a prerequisite for issuing a digital certificate. Identity verification is done through a personal meeting or a comparable method. The idea is to ensure a high level of identification and, therefore, the prevention of manipulation.
Streamlining Contract Signing
These additional features of the qualified digital signature allow companies to legally sign their documents in all EU member states. This streamlines the contract signing process and elevates international collaborations to a new level.
The eIDAS Regulation serves as the current legal basis for secure digital identification and valid electronic communication within the EU. It also introduces two new innovations: Recognizing cloud-based signatures as qualified signatures and accepting video conferencing as an alternative means of identification.
Qualified Electronic Signature Providers
The mentioned eIDAS Regulation stipulates that qualified digital signatures may only be created by a Trust Service Provider. Only then does the legal validity of the signature equate to that of a handwritten signature.
There are now several providers of qualified electronic signatures.
It should be noted that the well-known provider DP SignTrust discontinued its trust center services a few years ago.
Each company deciding to acquire a qualified digital signature for a person receives a complete package. This includes the signature card, the card reader, and the certificate for the qualified digital signature with a specified validity period. Prices for a complete package can vary depending on the provider. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU) cites a price range of €120 to €160 for a qualified electronic signature valid for three years.
Relevance for HR Departments
The qualified digital signature enjoys significant popularity in the business world and has now become an indispensable part of daily operations. It serves as the response to growing demands associated with digitizing business processes. HR departments, like all other business areas, are strongly affected and must adapt their traditional methods to digital workflows.
Usually, simple and advanced digital signatures suffice for handling internal HR matters. However, there are cases where the highest security standards are required. Three examples of the qualified digital signature used in HR departments are fixed-term agreements, acknowledgment of receipt, and amendments to employment contracts with a double written form clause.
Advantages for Companies at a Glance
The qualified digital signature offers flexibility and mobility, which are increasingly important in almost all business areas. It provides valuable opportunities for strategic realignment and ensures smoothly functioning relationships with employees, business partners, and customers.
The qualified digital signature is further not only convenient and easy to use but also provides the required security, effectiveness, and legal validity of signed contracts.