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The European Union instigated the eIDAS Regulation, which came into action in 2016, as a way of building trust in the online environment. It featured legislation that standardised the correct use of electronic identification including electronic timestamps, certificate services for website authentication, electronic documents as well as electronic seals and electronic signatures across all EU member states. 

But, when creating a document, how do you know which to use between an electronic seal vs signature? And when do you need to use both? Read this article to find out. 

What Is An Electronic Seal?

The eIDAS Regulation describes an electronic seal as “data in electronic form, which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form to ensure the latter’s origin and integrity.”

You can see an eSeal as being the digital equivalent of a stamp placed on a paper document to confirm its origin and integrity. The electronic seal can only be associated with a legal person or entity, rather than a natural person. There are two forms of eSeal described in eIDAS: 

  • Advanced Electronic Seals
  • Qualified Electronic Seals

Using an electronic seal means that your organisation can prove the integrity of the information in a document without having to have one specific individual, such as the CEO, sign manually. This speeds up your workflow and saves the valuable time of the individual in question. 

Difference Between Electronic Seal And Electronic Signature According eIDAS 

Although electronic seals and e-signatures perform some of the same tasks, there are also a number of differences between the two items. This table shows you how seals and signatures differ:

The Difference – Electronic Seal vs Electronic Signature

 

Electronic Seal

Electronic Signature

Who Uses It?

Legal persons and entities only.

Natural persons and entities, as well as legal persons and entities.

How is it Created? 

Manually, by a natural person entitled to act on behalf of a legal entity issuing the seal, or using automation by information systems. 

On the action of the signatory who verifies the content of the document before creating the signature using the relevant hardware needed for the type of e-signature. 

What is the Intention?

To guarantee the authenticity and origin of the data within a document.

To show a commitment to or engagement with the content within the document and to verify the identity of the signer. 

Versions

  • Simple Electronic Signatures
  • Advanced Electronic Signatures
  • Qualified Electronic Signatures

 

Advanced electronic seal (AdESeal) vs Advanced Electronic Signature (AES)

AdESeal

AES

  • uniquely linked to the seal’s creator
  • capable of identifying the seal’s creator
  • created using electronic seal creation data
  • can detect any changes made to the data after the seal creation
  • uniquely linked to the signatory
  • capable of identifying the signatory
  • created using electronic signature creation data
  • can detect any changes made to the data after the signature

 

Qualified electronic seal (QESeal) vs Qualified Electronic Signature (QES)

QESeal

QES

  • uniquely linked to the seal’s creator
  • capable of identifying the seal’s creator
  • created using a qualified seal creation device (QSealCD)
  • can detect any changes made to the data after the seal creation
  • uniquely linked to the signatory
  • capable of identifying the signatory
  • created using a qualified signature creation device (QSCD)
  • can detect any changes made to the data after the signature

The QESeal and the QES provide the greatest security when it comes to e-seals and e-signatures. They have the same legal standing as their handwritten or stamped equivalents within the EU, whichever member state they were created in. 

eIDAS says of the QESeal,  “Qualified electronic seal shall enjoy the presumption of integrity of the data and of correctness of the origin of that data to which the qualified electronic seal is linked.”

Requirements For Electronic Seals

The requirements for electronic seals centre around the identification of the party that created them. They should uniquely link to the creator so there is no doubt that the entity issuing the document is who it says it is. In addition, once the seal is placed on the document, you should be able to tell if anyone tampers with the contents afterwards. This is to maintain the integrity of the data contained within. 

A Qualified Electronic Seal must be created using a QSealCD and based on a qualified certificate issued by a Qualified Trust Services Provider on the EU Trusted List

How Does an Electronic Seal Work? 

A QESeal uses a digital certificate issued by a certification authority (CA) in a member state to create a seal unique to the creator of the document that links to the text so that it cannot be changed. Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) encryption using a private key links the issuing user with the document uniquely via digital signatures (not to be confused with electronic signatures). The recipient of the document holds the public key which means they can tell if there has been any subsequent change of data within it. This ensures the validity and integrity of the sealed document. 

Usually, the individual tasked with issuing the seal on behalf of their organisation will have to use a smart card, enter a PIN or confirm their identity using a form of biometry, such as a fingerprint. This confirms they are who they say they are and are entitled to act for the legal entity sending the sealed document. 

The QESeal has the same legal effect for electronic transactions as a physical seal has in the offline Instil

If any legal proceedings arise, the creator of the seal cannot claim it did not provide it, as the organisation’s digital signature is intrinsically linked to it.  

Electronic Seal Use Cases

There are many situations in which you might need to use an electronic seal. For example: 

  • Sending out a contract to a client or prospective employee, to ensure the document is legitimate and has not been altered between being sent by the organisation and received by the individual. 
  • Previously to eIDAS, the CEO of an organisation might have had to be physically present in the office to sign contracts of carriage, for example. With an eSeal, authorised employees can seal these documents on the CEO’s behalf and close deals instantly, speeding up the process of work. 
  • Instill trust in the recipient of sensitive information, such as financial reports where it is important to know that the data is correct and has not been adjusted. 
  • The ability to seal multiple documents automatically comes in handy for invoicing en masse. Each document is sealed and timestamped, maintaining its integrity and also providing an easy-to-access audit trail to ensure the organisation’s compliance. 

Limitations Of The Electronic Seal

Although the electronic seal is extremely useful and essential for maintaining the integrity of documents that a legal entity sends out, it cannot replace electronic signatures. The seal merely guarantees authenticity so that the recipient can be sure that they have received the original, untampered document. In order to show intent to engage with the contents of a document, you must use an electronic signature. 

There are similarities between signatures and seals, but the differences are very important, too. These two technologies work together but perform different tasks. An electronic seal cannot take on both jobs on its own. 

Another limitation of the electronic seal is that it cannot be created on behalf of a natural person. That is, an individual cannot have their own e-seal. It is reserved purely for legal persons and entities, although natural persons within an organisation may be entitled to create seals on behalf of the company. 

FAQ

What type of documents can be sealed electronically?

Any kind of document that you send out can be e-sealed. Whether it is a contract, a financial report, an invoice, a utility bill, a bank statement, medical information or even a customer retail receipt, sealing it electronically adds an extra level of security. In a world where customers are always on the lookout for phishing scams, an e-seal provides that guarantee that the document in question is genuine and safe to open and act upon. 

How do you seal a contract electronically?

You can seal a contract electronically by using an electronic sealing solution such as Certify by Evidos. Simply generate the seal for your business and attach it to the documents you send out through that tool. 

Conclusion

If your organisation wants to cut down on the use of paper processes, save time, speed up the contracting workflow and garner more trust with customers, using an electronic seal is a key part of that. When it comes to electronic seal vs signature, you often don’t have to choose between one or the other. They can complement each other. The seal provides the confidence that the document is safe to verify using the signature. For your chance to see how electronic seals and other tools for digital identification can work for you, try out the Evidos platform for free today.  

References and Further Reading

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