If you have been to Estonian homes, you may have noticed that many of them have a little card-reading device next to their computers. It looks like a bank card reader or a memory card reader or something. To those that don’t know, it may create an illusion that Estonians are all hackers or something. 

The truth is, this device can read your personal ID card and can be bought very affordably at any Estonian bank. This is legally binding and also confirms your identity. This is why Estonians can easily e-vote, file tax returns, submit company annual reports, sign contracts or even start brand new companies in minutes all from the comfort of their own homes. It removes a whole level of bureaucracy and adds a lot of simplicity to the daily life.

Unfortunately, outside of Estonia this system and the likes of it are not that wide-spread despite the EU Directive on Electronic Signatures that was put in place in December of 1999. This is what Signwise, a Tallinn based company, is trying to achieve by integrating all the possible solutions under one roof. 

Before we can explain how that is going to happen, let’s take a look at what an Electronic signature really is. You might think that Signwise will have a lot of competition as there are literally hundreds of companies and start-ups that provide an electronic signature solution. For instance in USA it is extremely common to simply attach your scanned signature to documents and it would be legally binding by law.

However it is important to understand that the law, in most countries, only states that the e-signature (Be it a scanned signature, your e-mail signature, your name under the text or any other electronic means of signing) is binding and is in fact a signature. What it does not do is state that it is “YOUR signature”. So basically, all the law does is allows to sign the documents by electronic means but does not guarantee identity.

Digital signatures on the other hand are signatures that are not only binding but also guarantee identity, such as the Estonian signature with a personal identity card. For this to be the case, the signature needs to guarantee cryptographic assertion of identity. So basically when things get to court it will be much easier to prove one’s identity if there was a digital signature but might turn out quite difficult with a simple e-signature.

To counter this, many governments in the EU have issued some sort of a digital identities. To guarantee this identity, you can use your online banking authentication in some countries, mobile phone authentication in others or ID cards as is done in Estonia.

Signwise is trying to bring this all under one roof and to make sure that all of these digital signatures would work well cross-border. So that not only can you sign any document you want from the comfort of your home in your own country but so that you can also sign contracts on a pan-european scale. 

As Tiit Anmann, CEO of Signwise tells us: “What we are doing is integrating into the mass-market service. So that cross-border transaction could be handled. In Europe, we can say that there is approximately 20 countries where we have done the integrations with.”

According to Anmann, there have been approximately 19 million E-Identities issued in the EU and very soon the EU comission will issue legislation on the Digital Singing Act, which will basically make digital signing procedures and identities a mandatory exercise for all EU countries. If this passeses in the EU parliament by the end of the year, it will be implemented within 2-3 years in all countries of the EU.

This is going to be an advanced digital signing based on the directive that is using public certificates and government certification systems while putting it it all in the same document. Which includes the hash and timestamp as well.

The company has been developing the system for 11 months and is currently in private alpha stage, so don’t expect to be sending signed documents cross-border right away. However they do have successful use cases already and are happy to put some of the processes to the test. This is definitely something that will be a bigger part of our lives in the years to come (Hopefully). 


The exact laws about e-signatures differ a little bit country by country, so I thought to give you links to the ones from the region that we could find publicly: 

Finland
Estonia
Lithuania
Latvia
Denmark
Norway

Image Courtesy Of Shutterstock / ID Reader