For the second time in just a few days, everything revolves around digital signatures and their validity in court: In Germany, the issue is the legality of digitally signed employment contracts, and in another case in Austria, the correctness of a contract award for 400 million euros. Where are the issues in these cases, and how would the right digital signatures have prevented legal doubts?
In Berlin, Germany, a legal dispute between employees and employers is currently revolving around the validity of employment contracts signed via the software of a major US provider. The signatures applied and their legal validity — specifically, whether they meet the writing requirement — are currently the subject of the proceedings (1). In Austria, a few days later, the result of a tender procedure was declared null and void by the court because the applied digital signature was not legally valid in Austria — the contract amount was 400 million euros (2). In both cases, digital signatures were applied whose legal validity is either the subject of the proceedings or was directly rejected by the respective instance.
To understand where the problems lie here, let’s take a look at the current legal situation for digital signatures. In the EU, the legal framework is regulated in the eIDAS Regulation or in the corresponding national legislations that have been leaned on. Essentially, a distinction is made between simple, advanced, and qualified digital signatures. In the case of Berlin employees, everything revolves around the legal validity of advanced digital signatures. This is because the law only specifically stipulates that qualified digital signatures are legally equivalent to handwritten signatures.
Although the eIDAS Regulation provides a uniform legal framework in the EU, it does not cover Switzerland. There, digital signatures are regulated in the “Federal Electronic Signature Act (ZertES).” In the case of the contract award in Austria, a document was signed in accordance with Swiss law. However, the equivalence of eIDAS and ZertES was rejected by the court.
Even if these two cases now give the impression that (legal) uncertainties may arise when using digital signatures, reassurance must be given at this point: With correctly affixed, eIDAS-compliant qualified digital signatures, equivalence to handwritten signatures applies within the EU. When selecting providers for digital signature solutions, therefore, particular attention should be paid to the possibility of qualified digital signatures.
We offer the right solution for this problem with sproof sign (https://sign.sproof.io), an Austrian company. Qualified digital signatures created with sproof sign are guaranteed to be legally valid according to eIDAS and are equivalent to handwritten signatures. If both the employment contracts in Germany and the tender in Austria had been signed with it, the court would probably not have doubted the legality of the signature in either case.