Electronic signature in Spain: Legal framework, applications, and definition

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Legal Framework for Electronic Signatures in Spain

In Spain, the realm of electronic signatures is governed by the EU Regulation 910/2014 (eIDAS Regulation) and national laws that are in harmony with this regulation.

The advanced electronic signature holds substantial legal value, equivalent to a handwritten signature when based on a recognized certificate and created by a secure signature creation device. This legal equivalence is recognized under Spanish law and is crucial in electronic data recording (L 6/2020 art.3; LEC art.326).

What is an Electronic Signature?

Defined as a set of data in electronic format, an electronic signature is used by the signatory to verify their identity. This signature includes a sequence of numbers, codes, keys, and similar procedures, which are attached to or logically associated with other electronic data.

Despite being digital, it doesn’t necessarily imply that the message is encrypted, maintaining the legibility of a signed message depending on its encryption status.

Participants in the Electronic Signature Process

The process involves two key participants: the signer and the recipient. The signer uses a function to create a ‘summary’ or digital fingerprint of the message, encrypting this fingerprint with their private key to generate the digital signature. This signature, attached to the original message, guarantees its integrity and the identity of the signer.

Recipients can independently verify the message’s authenticity by generating the same digital fingerprint, ensuring the message remains unchanged since its creation.

Furthermore, the authorship of the message can be ascertained by decrypting the digital signature with the signer’s public key, revealing the original summary or digital fingerprint.

The Applications of Electronic Signature

Electronic signatures in Spain are versatile, and widely used for:

  • Signing contracts, authorizations, and customer forms online.
  • Formalizing commercial contracts and agreements with suppliers.
  • Establishing confidentiality agreements.
  • Managing employment contracts and other human resource functions.
  • Facilitating public petitions and applications in administrative electronic registers.
  • Ensuring the receipt of electronic notifications.
  • Authenticating emails and electronic invoices.

Advanced Electronic Signature: A Closer Look

An advanced electronic signature is unique as it allows the signatory to be identified and is created by means under their exclusive control. It is linked exclusively to the signatory and the data it references, making any subsequent modifications detectable.

Presumed to meet necessary conditions for producing its intended effects, an advanced electronic signature is valid when the underlying certificate is issued by a qualified trust service provider, as regulated under EU Regulation 910/2014.

Systems of Electronic Signature

Key systems in Spain include: 

a) The electronic seal, utilized by public administrations or entities, based on an electronic certificate complying with trust services legislation. 

b) The secure verification code, associated with public administrations and entities, ensuring document integrity through access to the electronic headquarters.

The Value and Use of Electronic Signature in Administrative Acts

Electronic signatures are accepted as proof of authorship in administrative acts. Even if an electronic signature does not meet all the specified requirements, it is not denied legal effects or excluded as evidence in court but is subject to different treatment based on the tribunal’s criteria (LEC art.326.2; EU Regulation 910/2014 art.46).

Public Administrations employ these signatures, as outlined in the LPAC and LRJSP, as well as RD 203/2021, granting them full legal effects (L 6/2020 additional provision 2). Each Administration may provide electronic signature systems to its personnel, identifying both the individual and the Administration or body they serve.

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