As a European Union (EU) Member State, France is governed by Regulation No. 910/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (eIDAS). For more information on eIDAS, please read the Electronic Signature Laws & Regulations in the EU.
The use of electronic signatures in electronic contracts is increasing in France, especially in the context of e-commerce. Certificate-based digital signatures, such as qualified electronic signatures (QES), are mainly reserved for specific regulated business activities such as those involving notaries, lawyers, banking institutions, and bailiffs, where the evidential nature of the signature has a significant importance.
The eIDAS Regulation impact under French law is the distinction between:
Next to eIDAS, Chapter III of the French Civil Code is the main legal instrument regulating electronic signatures in France as well as the evaluation and certification of IT products, devices and systems used for creating electronic signatures.
Under the French Civil Code, an electronic document has the same evidentiary value as a paper document provided that:
Under French law, any type of electronic signature is admissible as evidence and shall be deemed reliable by a judge as long as it satisfies the above conditions as set forth in articles 1366 and 1367 of the French Civil Code. Those conditions can be fulfilled by the use of a reliable process of identification of the signatory which can certify the link between the agreement and the signature, and which certifies the integrity of the document.
EU Member States have the obligation to establish, maintain and publish trusted lists of Qualified Trust Service Providers (QTSPs) and the qualified trust services provided by them. A QTSP certified in any EU Member State will be recognized as a QTSP by all other Member States. Accordingly, no EU Member State may question the qualified status once a QTSP has been added to the trusted list by the supervisory authority of another Member State.
French law does not specifically address storage or processing of electronic signature data outside of France. However, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is applicable in France.
Transacting with public sector entities
In France, there are not specific laws regulating use of electronic signatures with government entities. However, in practice and as stated above, QES are generally required for e-administration matters.
Use cases that require a QES
A qualified electronic signature (QES) is required for many e-administration transactions such as:
Use cases that generally require a traditional signature
Although French law does not specify any documents or agreements that cannot be signed or executed electronically, there are some documents under French law that may need to be signed using a wet signature (or in the authentic format) such as:
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