The Electronic Signature Law was passed by Parliament on September 18 2001 and awaits the president's signature and publication. The law is not expected to come into force before Summer 2002.

As in other countries, the main effect of the law will be to confer electronic signatures with the same legal status and validity as their handwritten counterparts.

The law defines an 'electronic signature' as "electronic data attached to, or logically associated with other data enabling the identification of a person". The law meets the standards of both the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Electronic Signatures and EU Directive 1999/93. One element of these guidelines is that the definition of 'electronic signatures' should not limit itself by specifying the technologies which may be employed to generate such signatures.

The law introduces three electronic certificates to verify the authenticity of electronic signatures:

  • regular;
  • qualified; and
  • qualified granted by an accredited issuer.

Certificates are 'qualified' if they and their issuers meet various technical requirements under the law and have been approved by a supervising state authority. It has been argued that the certification system constrains the free development of certification services more than an open model, whereby the free market would decide which certificate issuers were dependable.

The holding of a qualified certificate is one of two conditions that must be met for documents to fulfil the written form requirement. The second is that the signature originates from a secure device (ie, one that meets particular standards provided by the law relating to data security and integrity during the transmission).

This differentiation between certifications for electronic signatures has created uncertainty as to the legal status or practical use of regular e-signatures, especially since Polish law requires a written signature for any transaction exceeding $500.

Polish law has stringent rules as to the form required for certain types of legal transaction. Notable among these are transactions involving the transfer of real estate, for which the law requires a notarial deed form. In such cases an electronic signature will not be sufficient to make the document in question legally binding.

For further information on this topic please contact Marek Rosinski or Tomasz Manicki at CMS Cameron McKenna by telephone (+48 22 520 5555) or by fax (+48 22 520 5556) or by email ([email protected] or [email protected]).