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What is the Estonian electronic signature and how to use it?

A major part of Estonian residents has become used to signing documents electronically. By now, more than electronic signatures have been supplied more than 1.2 billion times. However, foreigners who have come to live in Estonia might not find this system very common although they will need to use it sooner or later while living here. This is why we have compiled a brief overview of the phenomenon known as the electronic signature.

The electronic signature might seem difficult to understand at first. “How can I actually SEE this electronic signature?” is the question Estonian residents have to explain to their foreign partners more often than not.  The other question usually is “How do I know that the person stated has provided the electronic signature and not someone else?”

first, let us discuss the benefits of electronic signatures. Firstly, the e-state and electronic signing save time and paper, and an electronic signature is more difficult to forge than a signature on paper. Electronic signing allows Estonian residents to ‘e-vote’ in elections without leaving their homes, prepare and submit tax statements, check their health records and maintain remote communication with nearly all government agencies.

In Estonia, the concept of ‘electronic signature’ refers only to such a method of signing that is legally valid and legally equal a handwritten signature. This means that the identity of the user has been established, the background of the certificate issuer has been checked, and the time of signing has been recorded precisely.  To put it simply, who has given the signature has been identified, and it has been ensured that no third party has changed the document after it was electronically signed.

But how do you supply an electronic signature, view it and make sure it is valid? The most convenient way to check if the electronic signature of a document is valid and what level it corresponds to is to use the DigiDoc4 Klient software on your computer or the RIA DigiDoc application on your mobile phone. These certified and absolutely trustworthy applications for computers and smart devices have been developed by the Estonian Information System Authority. You do not even have to be a holder of the Estonian ID card in order to use the DigiDoc application for viewing electronically signed documents. Installing the software on your computer and using it to open an electronically signed document will suffice. It will allow you to download the files and view the date and time of the signature as well as the signor’s personal ID code.

The validity and restrictions on the use of electronic signatures are marked with one of the three colours supplemented by explanations:

green means that everything is all right;

yellow means that the user must pay attention and decide whether the signature in question is what the user needs;

red means that the signature cannot be regarded as valid in this situation.

We would like to remind those who believe that a good old signature on paper is more trustworthy that even kids in primary school have known to be able to forge their parents’ signatures on school reports. To sign a document electronically, one needs to know several PIN codes, so this signature is much more difficult to forge.

The Estonian Information System Authority has prepared a number of video manuals on how to use DigiDoc applications, sign and view signed documents and use other state e-services. You can find these videos in this playlist on YouTube. Another source of even more detailed information about any operations associated with electronic signing can be found on id.ee.