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May 3, 2024 · 5 min read

The Germany eSignature guide: laws, regulations, and privacy

Delve into the intricacies of Germany's eSignature landscape, from legal intricacies to compliance essentials.

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Guten Tag! Ever wondered how Germany, a land rich in tradition and famous for its systems and precision, navigates the digital revolution? As almost any member of the European Union, Germany complies with the Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services (eIDAS) regulation, which provides a legal framework for electronic signatures, seals, and documents. Enter the Germany eSignature guide – your virtual tour through the intersection of old-world charm and cutting-edge technology. Join us as we unravel the legal mystery of eSignatures in Germany, blending centuries of tradition with the digital age.

Understanding eSignature legality in Germany

Electronic signatures have gained legal recognition in Germany through the implementation of the eIDAS regulation and the German Trust Services Act (Vertrauensdienstegesetz or VDG). These legal frameworks aim to facilitate the use of electronic trust services and create a secure environment for electronic transactions. Despite numerous questions and concerns regarding its legality, the eSignature practice is now considered legally binding and serves the same purpose as the old-fashioned signatures do.

Documents that can be signed electronically

Under German law, most documents and contracts do not require any specific form to be valid. However, there are certain categories of agreements that do not impose a "written form" requirement and can be signed electronically. These include:
  • HR documents (except termination of employment relationships)
  • Procurement agreements (except installment supply contracts)
  • Corporate resolutions
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)
  • Software licensing agreements
  • Healthcare documents
  • Banking documents
  • Real estate agreements (except rental contracts, assumption of mortgage debt, and notification of assignment of a claim underlying a mortgage)
  • Lending agreements (except notification of assignment of right by the creditor to the debtor and validity of a deed in which the holder of the deed is promised a benefit)
  • Chattel paper
  • Insurance agreements
  • Education-related documents
  • Life sciences documents
  • Technology sector agreements
  • Documents to be recorded
  • Consumer transactions
  • Government filings
It's important to note that if a specific statute requires the "written form," which necessitates the use of a qualified electronic signature, then the electronic form may not be sufficient.

The legal framework for eSignature in Germany

To fully understand the eSignature legality in Germany, it's essential to explore the key laws and regulations that govern electronic signatures in the country.

The eIDAS regulation

Germany complies with the eIDAS regulation, which is directly applicable throughout the European Union. The eIDAS regulation sets forth the legal structure for electronic identification, signatures, seals, and documents. It aims to establish a harmonized framework for eSignature across EU member states.

The German trust services act (Vertrauensdienstegesetz or VDG)

The German Trust Services Act implements the eIDAS regulation in Germany and provides additional provisions to facilitate the use of electronic trust services. It ensures that electronic signatures and related services meet specific requirements for trust, security, and legal validity.
The VDG establishes the legal basis for trust service providers (TSPs) in Germany, who are responsible for issuing qualified certificates for qualified electronic signatures. These TSPs must meet strict regulations and be listed on the EU Trusted List.

The German civil code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch or BGB)

The German Civil Code is another crucial legal source that determines the use of electronic signatures in Germany. It specifies when written forms can be substituted with electronic forms and sets requirements for different types of declarations.
Certain contracts in Germany may be required to be executed in either text or writing form by legislation. The text form, according to the BGB, is a readable declaration made on a durable medium that includes the name of the person making the declaration. If the BGB requires written form, the document must also be signed by the issuer, using their name or notarized and certified initials. The text form is insufficient when German law specifically requires the written form.

Validity and evidential value of electronic signatures

In Germany, a qualified electronic signature is considered equivalent to a handwritten signature, as long as all necessary laws and regulations are fulfilled. It provides strong evidential value and establishes the authenticity of the signatory's declaration.
Simple and advanced electronic signatures can be used to conclude contracts when the written form is not necessary. However, they may not be sufficient for contracts that require the written form. In such cases, a qualified electronic signature should be used.
It's worth noting that judges in Germany may not be familiar with the regulations governing electronic signatures due to their limited usage. However, civil cases are increasingly filed online using electronic legal infrastructure, such as beA (Gesetz zur Förderung des elektronischen Rechtsverkehrs mit den Gerichten), which promotes electronic legal transactions with courts.

Compliance considerations for eSignature in Germany

When choosing an eSignature solution for your business in Germany, it's important to consider compliance with the relevant regulations and ensure the security and integrity of your digital transactions. Here are some key compliance considerations:

Qualified electronic signature (QES) and non-qualified electronic Signature

A qualified electronic signature offers the highest level of security and legal validity. It is the only type of electronic signature that is legally equivalent to a handwritten signature. Businesses dealing with contracts that require the written form should consider using a qualified electronic signature to ensure compliance.
Non-qualified electronic signatures, such as simple and advanced electronic signatures, can be used for contracts that do not require the written form. However, it's important to note that their evidential value may be lower compared to a qualified electronic signature.

Authentication and integrity of electronic documents

To ensure the authenticity and integrity of electronic documents, it is recommended to use authentication mechanisms and maintain an audit trail. These measures enhance the trustworthiness of non-qualified electronic signatures and provide evidence of the document's content integrity. Quality eSignature solutions like Enty can provide you with such trails upon request - the process will be quick and seamless, just like the electronic signature itself.

Privacy and data protection

When implementing an eSignature solution, businesses should prioritize privacy and data protection. Ensure that the solution complies with applicable data protection laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Protecting the personal information of signatories and maintaining the confidentiality of signed documents is crucial for maintaining trust and compliance.

Trust service providers (TSPs)

When choosing a qualified electronic signature solution, consider working with reputable trust service providers (TSPs) listed on the EU Trusted List. These TSPs have met the strict regulatory requirements outlined in the eIDAS regulation and can issue qualified certificates for qualified electronic signatures.

Ongoing compliance monitoring

As laws and regulations regarding electronic signatures evolve, it is important to stay updated and ensure ongoing compliance. Regularly review your eSignature processes, documentation, and security measures to align with any new legal requirements or industry best practices.
Does this all sound a bit complicated? There is no need to worry, Enty got you covered. Enjoy hassle-free eSigning process and streamlined document management - simply upload your document to Enty, choose the way you’d like to use for signing it and voila! The magic happiness behind the scenes, while you get a perfectly valid EU signature.

Last thoughts

Understanding the legal framework and compliance considerations is crucial for businesses looking to leverage eSignature solutions in Germany. By choosing the appropriate type of electronic signature, ensuring authentication and integrity, protecting privacy and data, and employing the right eSignature solution like Enty, businesses can confidently and legally implement eSignatures in their operations. Embrace eSignature technology today! Simplify and accelerate document signing processes, and enjoy streamlined business operations.
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