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Jordi Masias and Alfredo Gosálvez

Managing Director and general director of Firmaprofesional

Jordi Masias and Alfredo Gosálvez are, respectively, the managing director and general director of Firmaprofesional. Thanks to their relationship with the Medical Association of Barcelona, they are one of the main promoters of digital certificates in the medical sector (on the photo Alfredo Gosálvez).

Firmaprofesional is a company that supplies digital certificates and electronic signatures, much like Camerfirma -also featured recently in our newsletter- and other organizations that work to protect data included in professional signatures.

What is a professional signature? Is it the same as a digital certificate?

A legally recognized electronic signature, (according to Law 59/2003 of 19 December) is that which is equivalent to the handwritten signature. On the other hand, a digital certificate is a tool that, together with a cryptographic device (like a card or USB device) allows users to sign electronically. The certificate includes attributes, meaning information linking a professional with a specific organization, company or public body. In other certificates, like the e-ID, professional attributes are not included. Only the user's citizenship is guaranteed.

Therefore, we understand a professional signature to be a recognized electronic signature created with a certificate that contains specific information on the professional attributes of the user and their membership in a professional association. Our group provides certificates and cryptographic devices, through the authorities (professional associations, Pimec, organizations or companies), to allow users to sign documents or carry out telematic operations that are legally valid.

Why is this such a hot topic right now?

JM and AG.- First of all, it is a legal issue. Three laws were put into action in 2007 to encourage their use, which can only be complied with if one has a digital certificate. Secondly, the public administration is making an effort to give citizens digital identification, like the electronic ID card and the idCAT. We should stress that this identification is personal and cannot be used to represent a professional or a corporate body. And, third, digital certificates have proven to be very beneficial to professionals, companies and the public administration over the past years. Use of the digital certificate means a reduction in time and costs (materials, storage, manipulation...), in other words, increased productivity. Therefore, it is no longer just a legal or security issue; it is a matter of saving time, money and resources.

What laws are you referring to?

They are the Law on Electronic Access by Citizens to Public Services, which recognizes the rights of Spanish citizens to communicate with the public administration telematically (they are required to offer all services online by 2010), the Law on Public Sector Contracts, which encourages bodies in the public sector to do their hiring online, and finally, the Law on the Information Society, which obligates a subset of companies to facilitate their clients with online communication channels using digital certificates. Moreover, it requires the public administration to start using electronic invoicing by the end of 2010. This means that anyone supplying the public administration must emit an electronic invoice (including architects and architectural groups).

Which sectors require this?

To start off, all of them. However, some sectors need it more than others. The Law on the Information Society, or LISI, has encouraged some sectors, like banking, insurance, telecommunications and utilities, to be pioneers. As is the healthcare sector (due to the Law on Electronic Access by Citizens to Public Services or LAECSP) and the public administration in their relationship with citizens and companies (mercantile register, tax agency...). But in the long term, all sectors will need to do this.

Is my signature a guarantee for my clients, partners and suppliers?

As established in the Law on Electronic Signatures, any electronic document with a recognized signature, like that offered by Firmaprofesional, has the same legal weight as a handwritten signature. When a document with a digital signature is opened, the systems automatically check its validity, which we never do with a handwritten signature. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, it is more or less the same. Technically, because it uses cryptographic algorithms, it is much safer and lacks the subjective nature of a handwritten signature.

We will slowly see that, for high-security operations, this type of signature will be required more often. We find these in commercial relationships and on legal documents (contracts, deeds, reports...). One of the fields to be most affected will be the biomedical field.

Therefore, an electronic signature guarantees that the user is really the person signing the document and that the document in question has not been manipulated. Firmaprofesional certificates also guarantee that the user has the authority to sign the document.

As a company, can I be required to request it?

Yes. For example, the Law on Public Sector Contracts requires electronic invoices for the AGE and large companies starting 1 August 2009, and all other companies starting 1 November 2010. The Spanish Tax Agency requires it for processing tax reports (VAT, Income Tax, Business Tax...) and the mercantile register also requires an electronic signature.

What needs do you foresee in the future for this technology in the life sciences sector?

In this field, more and more professionals needs digital tools that can guarantee the security of the data they work with, guarantee the integrity of their documents, the professionalism of the authors of those documents, and even the date and time they were created and the signature on the document. Their needs range from authorizations for operations to managing and manufacturing orders, or protecting device design, discoveries and much more.

What does the European Community say? Do they require it?

In fact, the current Law on Electronic Signatures is the application of a European directive from 1999, from which the laws in other member States were also derived. The directive only lays out the general guidelines to follow in order to develop regulations on electronic signatures but does not require citizens to obtain one. Use of electronic signatures will become commonplace because of the benefits it offers. We are at the beginning of the process and it will take some time for the population to get used to working in this way. On the other hand, there are many measures in Europe and the world that are moving towards standardizing formats for business documents (like the electronic invoice) and electronic signatures.

What equivalents exist in other countries?

Regulations regarding electronic signatures are currently being developed worldwide. In Europe, Directive 1999/93/CE establishes a common framework for the whole community. Many countries in America also have a regulatory framework for electronic signatures and in Asia countries like Turkey, South Korea, Hong Kong, Russia, Japan and India also have regulations regarding this technology. Australia and New Zealand also have similar regulations, as do Morocco, Tunisia and South Africa. Spain was one of the first countries to require it for administrative processes and this has made us pioneers in using these signatures and developing applications and services that take advantage of all the benefits this technology offers.

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