Several EU member states have not yet incorporated the European Directive on E-commerce (Directive 3/1993) into their national laws. However, the Hungarian legislator, with a view towards joining the European Union, intends to regulate electronic signatures in conformity with the directive, which established July 19 2001 as the deadline for national implementation.
On August 29 2000 the Hungarian government passed Decision 1075/2000 (9.13). This sets out the principles that will govern the recognition and certification of electronic signatures and documents, and the measures that will be taken to introduce electronic signatures into public services. According to the decision, the Electronic Signature Act will be drafted by October 31 2000.
The primary goal is to have electronic signatures deemed equivalent to handwritten signatures in order to acknowledge their conclusive effect in several areas of law. However, some areas of law will be excluded from the scope of the act, for example, family law and law of succession.
The act will determine the definition, legal effect, validity and recognition of electronic signatures. It will also stipulate the conditions for the establishment, operation and supervision of certification and qualified certification authorities.
Pursuant to the government decision, an electronic signature must ensure that the signatory is identifiable, that the signature is undisputable and that the content of the document has not been altered since the time and date of the signature.
In order to prove the authenticity of the signatures, a third party will be required to issue a certificate regarding the date, time and content of the signature. A qualified certificate will have the effect of a private document providing full evidence. If the issuer of the certificate complies with the mandatory conditions of special qualification, then the document will be deemed as a public document. The third party that issues a certificate must be an independent certification authority. The certification will not necessarily be carried out by public authorities. According to the legislator, certification may be a private, market-driven activity supervised by the Hungarian Communication Authority (HCA). (The HCA web site may be accessed at www.hif.hu.)
The certification authority will be allowed to provide its services without obtaining prior authorization from the HCA, although it must report that it intends to undertake these activities before commencing. Different rules will apply to qualified and non-qualified certification authorities. However, it will be up to each certification authority to comply with the necessary requirements in order to receive state accreditation. All conditions related to the qualification of the certification authority must be objective, transparent, proportionate and non-discriminatory.
The state may not limit the number of accredited certification authorities, and it will be the state's responsibility to supervise and keep records of the qualified certification authorities.
In light of the international nature of electronic commerce, the legislator intends to provide access for foreign certification authorities on the Hungarian market. Foreign qualified certification authorities may provide services with an equivalent legal effect to Hungarian service providers, as long as either (i) an accredited Hungarian certification authority bears responsibility for the foreign certification authority's activities in a manner regulated by law, or (ii) an international treaty sets forth the acknowledgement of the certificate issued by a foreign certification authority.
The government decision states that the two most relevant areas of law which will profit from the regulation of electronic signatures are commercial and administrative law. Business transactions will be performed in a faster, more efficient and safer manner. The regulation of electronic signatures may also introduce new benefits to administrative and civil procedure laws. Those involved in certain administrative and court procedures may access information and proceed in a less time-consuming manner, for instance, in the course of submitting declarations and documents to the authorities and obtaining official certificates. In spite of the advantages, the legislator will not introduce a mandatory requirement for parties to use electronic signatures. Nevertheless, through promoting the development of the information society the government hopes that administrative authorities (as well as courts in the longer term) will be prepared to receive documents in electronic form which bear electronic signatures.
For further information on this topic please contact András Szecskay, Judit Budai or Anna Ránky at Szecskay Law Firm/Moquet Borde by telephone (+361 353 1255) or by fax (+361 353 1229) or by e-mail ([email protected]).
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