There are three levels of electronic signature, as defined by The eIDAS Regulation:
- A “simple” e-signature such as a scanned handwritten signature or simply your name under an email.
- An advanced e-signature that is linked directly to you and the document securely that makes all subsequent changes detectable using certificates and cryptographic keys.
- A qualified electronic signature is all of the above, but it can only be created by a qualified device (such as SIM cards, for instance) and is based on a qualified certificate from providers who deliver the corresponding encrypted private key. I
While there are situations where simple or advanced e-signatures work best, only the qualified ones have the equivalent legal effect of handwritten signatures in the EU. In the Netherlands, there is no legal difference between electronic signatures as long as the method you use is sufficiently secure.
There’s also the matter of a digital signature, sometimes referred to as “sealing a document”, whose purpose is entirely different. It’s not a signature in the legal sense but rather a unique fingerprint to identify a specific document and verify its authenticity in case of a dispute. It goes without saying that no two documents can have the same digital signature.
In most cases, both electronic and digital signatures are used at the same time to ensure the legitimacy and legal effect of a document.