Electronic signature in business
More and more entrepreneurs use electronic signatures in their activities. It is one of the modern tools enabling the identification of parties that exchange electronic documents (which are currently being sent more and more). Due to the fact that this form of signing e-documents has been assessed as very safe, even tax offices and the Social Insurance Institution allow taxpayers who have an electronic signature to send various forms with such a certificate via the Internet.
Electronic signature through the prism of regulations
The rules for issuing and using electronic signatures are regulated in the Act of 18 September 2001 on electronic signatures (hereinafter: the Act). It is a basic legal act containing basic definitions and rules for the use of, inter alia, electronic signature and secure electronic signature (more on this later in the article).
In the context of using an electronic signature for the purpose of submitting tax returns, implementing regulations are also important, including:
- Ordinance of the Minister of Finance of December 24, 2012 on the manner of submitting declarations;
- Ordinance of the Minister of Finance of December 27, 2013 amending the ordinance on the method of sending declarations and applications and the types of electronic signatures that should be attached to them.
Differences between an electronic signature and a secure electronic signature
There are two types of e-signatures used in Polish regulations:
- simple electronic signature,
- secure electronic signature.
Their definition can be found in the aforementioned Act, and more precisely in its Art. 3.
Art. 3 of the Act
1) electronic signature - data in electronic form which, together with other data to which they have been attached or with which they are logically related, are used to identify the person submitting the electronic signature;
2) secure electronic signature - an electronic signature which:
a) is assigned only to the person signing this,
b) it is prepared using secure electronic signature creation devices and electronic signature creation data, which are subject to the exclusive control of the person signing the electronic signature,
(c) it is associated with the data to which it has been attached in such a way that any subsequent change in that data is recognizable.
It is very important to distinguish between them. The secure version of the electronic signature is confirmed by a qualified certificate, which gives a much wider possibility of use - e.g. for stamping official documents. The main Polish certification authority for the secure electronic signature infrastructure is the National Certification Center.
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Online advice for businessesIn turn, the so-called an ordinary electronic signature (with an unqualified certificate) is used in the common exchange of e-mail correspondence. It is not secure enough to be used to exchange documents of greater importance, such as tax declarations or court letters.
What is the legal force of an electronic signature?
A document with a secure electronic signature (in accordance with the law) has the same legal force as a document signed by hand. This means that the declaration signed with a secure e-signature is treated as a paper form with a handwritten signature of the taxpayer.
When is an electronic signature used?
The entrepreneur, in addition to ongoing correspondence with contractors, can use a secure electronic signature to:
- submitting e-tax returns,
- submitting an e-declaration to the Social Insurance Institution,
- signing electronic invoices,
- signing various types of contracts,
- submitting letters, applications and other registration forms, e.g. to entities such as: KRS, CEIDG, courts, patent office, etc.,
- submitting an offer in a tender.
Where to go for a secure electronic signature?
Just as the electronic signature in the poorer version can be obtained even without paying fees, in the case of a secure version, we always talk about a paid purchase. Currently, entrepreneurs intending to purchase a richer version of the e-signature should contact one of the four entities qualified in this field:
- Krajowa Izba Rozliczeniowa (Szafir),
- Polish Security Printing Works (Sigillum),
- Unizeto Technologies (CENTER),
- Enigma S.O.O. (PEM-HEART).
Practical use of e-signature
What is the practical use of e-signature? First, you need to purchase it. This is done by signing a contract and obtaining a certificate that must be collected in person to confirm the correctness of the data. Then the entrepreneur will receive additional tools that will be used to sign e-documents:
- a cryptographic card (with a private key written on it) with a reader or token,
- software enabling the card to cooperate with a computer through a reader or a token.
Signing consists in ordering the computer to submit an electronic signature, as a result of which the calculation of the so-called the abbreviation of the signed document. Importantly, it is determined individually for each letter.The next step is encryption with a private key (the received software is used for this purpose) and the document, signed with a secure e-signature, is sent to the addressee.
Is an electronic signature always needed?
It turns out, however, that currently ZUS and tax offices (and a number of other institutions) allow taxpayers to submit forms in electronic form without the need to have a secure electronic signature. For example, when submitting popular tax declarations, such as PIT-36, PIT-37 or VAT-7, entrepreneurs can use the data on the amount of income from the income tax declaration submitted in the previous year to verify the electronic shipment. This means that in 2014 e-declarations will be verified on the basis of the amount of revenue from the annual declaration for 2012.
Taxpayers who were not obliged to submit such a form for verification purposes enter the amount "0".
The Social Insurance Institution also made it possible to submit forms electronically without signing them with a secure e-signature. However, it is required to set up a trusted profile on the e-puap platform and to visit a selected facility once in order to confirm the identity of the person to whom the profile has been granted.
Summing up the considerations on the e-signature in business, due to the high cost of acquiring such a certificate, it is worth carefully analyzing for what purpose it would be used and whether it is not possible to exchange documents electronically without it.