Italy was among the first nations in the world to grant e-signatures the same legal status that is enjoyed by conventional wet-ink signatures. When the European Union decided to replace the electronic signature directive (Directive199/93/CE) on July 1, 2006, Italy had already enacted a legislation of its own (Decree 513/1997), to act as guidance on matters electronic signature. Nonetheless, later in the year 2000, because of the different definitions given by the European Union directive, the Italian domestic laws on e-signatures had to be modified to some extent.
Additional modifications to the same legislation were made in 2002 and 2003 for the purposes of simplifying the Italian definition of various types of electronic signatures. However, the evolution relating to e signature laws recently came to a halt, thanks to the Digital Administration Code (DAC), which was introduced in Jan 2006. The DAC provides an updated legislation on electronic documents and electronic signatures and the legal weight they carry. Basically, DAC outlines the requirements with which electronic documents must meet in order to be considered valid under Italian law.
Electronic signatures types under the Italian law
The DAC governs three kinds of e signatures. They include:
- Simple electronic signature (SES) – This is a set of data appearing in electronic form, which is logically associated or attached to some other electronic data and, which acts as an authentication method for electronic data.
- Qualified Electronic Signature (QES) – This is a type of e signature that:
- Can be explicitly associated with the signatory,
- Can clearly identify the signatory,
- Is created with a device or method which can be controlled only by the signatory
- Is linked to the signed data so that any subsequent change made on data can be easily noticed.
- Digital signature – This is a form of e-signature which is created using Public Key Cryptography (PKC). A digital signature uses a certificate-based digital ID that is usually awarded by a recognized Trust Service Provider or Certificate Authority. Therefore, when individuals sign a document online, their identities can be easily traced and eventually, everything can be authenticated.
Cases where simple electronic signatures in Italy are used
- Commercial agreements between entities, including purchase orders, invoices, order acknowledgment, procurement documents, non-disclosure agreements, distribution agreements, service agreements, and sales agreements.
- HR documents, such as employee invention agreements, NDAs, regular employment contracts and privacy notices.
- Software license agreements
- Intangible property transfers, including copyright assignments and patents.
- Licenses of intellectual property, including copyright, patent, and
- Consumer agreements including sales terms
Use cases where other types of e-signatures are appropriate
Here are some common use cases where other forms e signature (Digital Signatures, Qualified Signatures, and Advanced Signatures) may be appropriate.
- QES – contracts that constitute a transfer or modify, of surface rights, the right of usufruct of real estate properties, the right of the tenant or grantor.
- QES – agreements that transfer real estate property ownership.
- QES – Contracts for anticresi
- QES – contracts which modify or constitute the right of use and right to housing
- QES – Contracts for the association and corporation with which the parties involved grant the fruition of real property right for an indefinite period or for a period longer than 9 years.
- QES – Leases of real estate assets for a duration longer than 9 years
Use cases where e signatures are not appropriate in Italy
Below are instances, where esigns are barred or where only handwritten signatures are applicable. Most of these instances are outlined on sec. 1350 of the Italian Civil Code.
- Formal notarization – Agreements to transfer or buy real estate property, or rights relating to it.
- Formal notarization – Settlements contracts relating to disposal of corporate assets or disputes over the transfer of real estate assets
- Formal notarization – Some agreements disposing of corporate assets
- Consumer loan agreements
Italy’s legal model is usually a tiered one. Tiered laws accept e signatures as legally enforceable and admissible; but, recognize Qualified Electronic Signatures or authenticated digital signatures as having a greater evidentiary weight when compared to typical e-signs in some transactions. No wonder why many organizations and companies that process a big chunk of electronic documents, such as banks, public institutions, and leasing firms, use Qualified Electronic Signature (QES) to execute even high-level sensitive documents. However, this does not in any way imply that a non-Qualified Electronic Signature cannot be put forward in an Italian court of law, although, it often requires additional evidence to back it up.
All said and done, according to Italian e-signature laws, contracts that are correctly drawn up, recorded and conveyed via the use of electronic instruments are equally enforceable and valid for all legal purposes just like contracts drawn on paper or executed with wet-ink signatures.