In this blog post time.lex will provide a short presentation of the CITADEL project, what it hopes to achieve and what the importance of the project is for e-government in Belgium.
The use of commercial cloud computing services by Belgian governmental institutions and the privacy and security aspects thereof have been subject to in-depth parliamentary discussions.
In August 2013, the federal, regional and community governments concluded a cooperation agreement to harmonise and align their initiatives aimed at achieving an integrated e-government approach.
On 26th June 2013, the European Commission published two documents: a communication concerning “end-to-end” procurement intended to modernise public administration; and a related draft directive proposal on electronic invoicing in public procurement. Meanwhile at the EU regional level, the Flemish government has announced a series of steps moving to full Business-to-Government electronic invoicing.
Thanks to its advanced eID card infrastructure, Belgium is an ideal country for digitising paper based processes. Yet, in practice many public sector attestations and certificates are still provided on paper. Electronic attestations face a number of barriers, including the practical and cultural difficulty of presenting the attestations to third parties: when a company or public administration asks you for an attestation, it usually expects to receive a piece of paper, and citizens tend to feel a little lost when they can only present a digital document on their computer or smartphones.
Hybrid digital signatures can present a nice solution to this problem. The electronic document is signed using a normal (and legally valid) electronic signature, but it is also marked with a visible seal representing the characteristics of that electronic signature. When the electronic document is printed, the marking is visible and legible on paper, and it can be scanned to determine its authenticity through online validation portals. In this way, both the paper and electronic versions are equally valid and can be used interchangeably.
These hybrid eSignature solutions - combining the benefits of paper and electronic documents - are not new, and have been used for some time, e.g. in Austria and in the Spanish national cadastre. Since the beginning of July, they are now also used in Belgium, including in the cities of Antwerp and Mechelen. Both cities use technology provided by IntelliStamp, which allows electronic signatures to be visualised and printed on paper in a variety of ways (bar codes, reference numbers, watermarks, or the QR codes used in Belgium). The authenticity of the paper document can then be determined by validating the printed code.
It is worth noting that the Belgian eSignatures rules were updated as well, to eliminate any doubts that could have arisen on the legal validity of this process: the Belgian eSignatures Act was amended through a law of 15 February 2012 (NL | FR), which added a single line to the law: "The certificate holder's signature can be materialised into an equivalent that meets the requirements of Article 2, 2nd member, 2°". This one line addition allows materialisation (printing) into a format that meets the requirements of so-called advanced electronic signatures, and which presumably benefits from the same legal validity.
With any luck, this means that trips to municipalities to pick up paperwork will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.