Author: Nik Fuchs

Legal validity of electronic signatures

What legal validity does an electronic signature have compared to a handwritten signature? What is the legal significance of the various electronic signatures? What is the legal validity of a scanned handwritten signature?


With the progress of digitization, paper-based processes are becoming less and less important because they are ineffective and slow down work steps. Typically, this is the case with drafting and concluding contracts. You have to sign them with a handwritten signature so the contract becomes legally binding. Therefore, contracts a printed out, signed, and sent by post. However, this involves a lot of work and time. Using the electronic signature can relieve this lengthy process by allowing documents to be signed digitally, thus supporting effective work.

The eIDAS Regulation distinguishes between three types of electronic signatures with different legal bases.


Simple electronic signature

The simple electronic signature has no technical complexity and a very low-security level. Therefore, you can use it privately or for non-critical business mail. For example, a simple electronic signature inserts an image of your handwritten signature.

The evidential value of a simple electronic signature is low and can be disputed in court. According to paragraph 127, no. 33 of the German Civil Code (BGB), the simple electronic signature is sufficient if previously agreed in the contract.

Advanced electronic signature

In contrast to the simple electronic signature, the advanced electronic signature is more complex and has a higher security level.

The advanced signature must meet three criteria: First, it must be linked to a specific person. Secondly, it must show whether data in the document has been changed after the signature. Thirdly, this person must be able to prove that they signed the document. Because the advanced electronic signature is relatively secure, you can apply it in informal agreements and standard contracts. An example here is a PGP-signed e-mail.

Qualified electronic signature

The qualified electronic signature has the highest level of security compared to the other two signature types. It uses the exact mechanisms as the advanced signature. Additionally, it requires the validation of the signatory's identity, the existence of a qualified electronic certificate, and the presence of the signature key in a qualified electronic signature creation device.

Due to the very high level of security, you can use the qualified electronic signature for binding contracts everywhere where clear legal security is required, e.g., when signing contracts.

Since the security level of the qualified signature is very high, it is just as legally binding in all EU member states as a handwritten signature on paper and can therefore replace it (e.g., see paragraph 126a of German Civil Code (BGB)). In court, this signature has a very high probative value.


Legal validity of an electronic signature compared to a handwritten signature


The legal validity of the electronic signature varies depending on the type. The simple and advanced electronic signature has a lower legal validity than a handwritten signature and can be denied in court.

Only the qualified electronic signature has the same legal validity as a handwritten signature, as it is subject to high-security measures. Therefore, the legal validity of a qualified electronic signature is no different from that of a handwritten signature.


Legal validity of a scanned handwritten signature



Inserting a scanned signature to sign a contract falls into the category of a simple electronic signature. This has limited probative value and does not have the same legal validity as a handwritten signature.