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Q&A – Legally binding online signature in Finland

There has been a lot of interest in online signatures – the legally binding type –  by companies doing business in Finland or with Finnish parties. As there is no global or European legislation for online signatures yet, is really pays to know a few facts.

What prerequisites are there to ensure a document has been signed in a legally binding way – in Finland?

The Act on Strong Electronic Identification and Electronic Signatures (http://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/2009/en20090617.pdf) defines legally binding signatures in Finnish jurisdiction. A strong authentication method must be used, specifically one regulated by  the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (www.ficora.fi). Only a such signature is deemed to ensure integrity , authenticity and non-repudiation – and therefore legal relevance – for the signed documents. There are very few exceptions to universal applicability, regardless of signing party type (person, company, other organization) or application (contract, power of attorney, meeting protocol etc). As the signing necessitates trust on a third party (online signature provider), all relevant service providers provide external audits on their services. For onnistuu.fi, the audit is provided by Nixu Corporation (www.nixu.com).

kartta_onnistuuNow, please note that no global online signature service meets the criteria. However useful they may be in international setting, they have no legally binding status in Finland. In fact, you should consider that not once has an online signature – which has been made according to the Act – been contested in Finnish courts. The same luxury of absolute legal relevance has not been afforded to other types of eSignatures.

Do Finnish authorities accept documents that have been signed online?

The Act on Electronic Services and Communication in the Public Sector requires all Finnish authorities to accept documents with online signatures. It specifically states that such documents meet legal requirements for written form and signature. Again, the prerequisite for acceptance is a signature which conforms to the Electronic Identification Act (STL in Finnish legal parlance).

When is an online signature not applicable in Finland?

In social and health services, when patient records or other confidential information such as medical prescriptions are transmitted electronically. Only Finnish state issued crypto cards can be used for signing in those cases. Also, a consumer down payment contract and a real property sale contract must be signed in writing. No other practical limitations are set by legislation.

How does the recipient of a document that has been signed online validate the document?

Any person can validate the authenticity of a document that has been signed via onnistuu.fi service by clicking at the link on every page (footer) of the signed document, at no cost. Also, registering to onnistuu.fi service is free of cost, and enables anyone to validate the integrity and non-repudiation of the document. For authorities and key infrastructure companies wishing to automate full validation, an API is available free. The API is also available for all onnistuu.fi corporate customers. Step by step instructions for browser based validation are available at request from asiakaspalvelu(at)onnistuu.fi (customer service email).

How should a received document be handled and archived?

A document that has been signed online is in practice a PDF file, which includes the original content and markings for signatures. It is considered to be an original copy of the document, which must be stored in electronic form as long as it may have any legal , regulatory or contractual effect on signees or third parties. It may be copied indefinitely, as long as the copies are technically identical. All copies hold identical legal power.

OK, I’m in the market for a proper online signature service – what now?

Please contact onnistuu.fi via email asiakaspalvelu(at)onnistuu.fi or give us a call +358 44 500 0020. There are various ways to make sure your risk management, conformance, process efficiency and customer experience build on solid ground when online signatures are used.

Please note that most of this blog and related services at onnistuu.fi are in Finnish, as the market is domestic due to regulation. Worry not – we will serve you in English.

 

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