Qualified Electronic Signature (QES)

QES is the highest level of electronic signature as defined by the eIDAS regulation, which defines the framework for electronic signatures and eIDs within the European Union. You can read more about the three levels of electronic signature here.

Scrive currently offers QES services in partnership with Swisscom, a qualified trust service provider (QTSP) recognised by the EU, ensuring our customers are able to choose the type of e-signature that fits their needs.

What is QES?

From a technical perspective, according to eIDAS, “‘qualified electronic signature’ means an advanced electronic signature that is created by a qualified electronic signature creation device, and which is based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures”.

From a legal perspective, QES has the equivalent legal effect of a handwritten signature, i.e. a “special legal effect”. QES offers a high level of assurance that the named signatory is in fact the person who signed the document. What this means in practice:

If the validity of a Qualified Electronic Signature is legally challenged, the court may presume that signature is valid and that the signatory has been identified. Thus, the initial burden of proof rests on the challenger (who repudiates their signature) to show that the document was not signed by the named signatory. By contrast, in the case of a document/agreement signed using a (simple) Electronic Signature (ES) or an Advanced Electronic Signature (AES), the burden of proof may be reversed: the party defending the validity of the signature needs to demonstrate that the named signatory did sign it.

In effect, the special legal effect that QES enjoys offers some benefits to the party relying on the signature; mainly that the threshold for repudiation by the signatory can be perceived as higher than if a ES/AES was used. Nevertheless, a court must still weigh the evidence at hand and in e.g. a case of identity fraud even a QES can be deemed invalid – just as a contested ES/AES may still be deemed valid even though the initial presumption of validity didn’t apply. The quality of evidence related to the signature process is of course important in this context, not the least when ES/AES is used.

When do you need QES?

The use cases where QES is required are currently few and generally subject to national laws. In Germany for example, fixed-term employment agreements, annual reports and B2B real estate rental agreements are among the types of agreements that require QES. 

If you are unsure as to what documents/agreements your business may need to sign with QES, reach out to our team, and we’ll help guide you to the right solution for you.

What is the difference between Advanced Electronic Signature (AES) and Qualified Electronic Signature(QES)?

To understand the difference between these two levels of electronic signature, as defined by eIDAS, it helps to start out by showing the difference between AES and an electronic signature on the basic level. An AES has four requirements that set it apart from a basic ES, two of them are about the identity of the signatory, one about the sole control of the signatory, and the last about integrity protection.

According to the eIDAS regulation, an AES must be “uniquely linked to the signatory” and be “capable of identifying the signatory”. While eIDAS is technology neutral, the identity proofing and sole control criteria required for an AES is typically achieved with an eID means like Swedish BankID, iDIN (Netherlands) or NemID/MitID (Denmark). To learn more about eIDAS and electronic identity schemes in the EU, refer to the Scrive Trust Centre article Standardising Digital Identity in the EU.

In eIDAS, the requirements of each level are built on the requirements of the level below it. Thus, a QES is an AES which is additionally: (i) created by a qualified signature creation device (QSCD), and (ii) iis based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures. These technical requirements are typically the responsibility of the e-signature service provider and their partners, not the parties signing the document.

Simply put, these requirements mean that the technical solution used to sign with QES needs to be certified/approved. This implies that the methods of identification, sole control and integrity protection used are also approved. However, not all such methods that are available for the AES level do fulfill that criteria. In effect, the options for QES are more limited and the feasibility, user friendliness etc. thereof may also be affected due to stricter requirements. This may make AES, or even ES, a more attractive alternative for your business and your counterparts – provided this is sufficient to comply with your regulatory requirements and to manage your business risk.

General disclaimer: Scrive does not provide legal advisory services. The purpose of this information is only to give general information based on Scrive’s research and current understanding and knowledge of applicable regulations. The reader may use the information provided solely on own responsibility and risk. For legal advice, please refer to qualified legal expertise within your own jurisdiction and business area.

How to start using qualified electronic signatures?

Through partnerships Scrive may offer solutions for QES on different markets throughout Europe. To implement support for QES in your business may only require the integration of Scrive’s eSign service into your system or service.