Panama: Regulating electronic signatures

Author: Alfaro Ferrer & Ramírez (AFRA) | Published: 31 Mar 2020
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As the world moves to adapt to the ever-growing, rapid-changing digital and globalised times, signing through electronic means is a concept many companies are trying to implement to increase the efficiency with which they connect with consumers and suppliers.

Panama has regulated electronic signature since 2008, through the enactment of Law 51 of 2008 (as amended) (Law 51). It is important to point out the differences between the various types of electronic signatures as set forth in Law 51:

  • Electronic signature (Firma electronica): A technical method to identify the person executing the document and to indicate that such person approves the information contained in a data message or electronic document.
  • Qualified electronic signature (Firma electronica calificada): electronic signature whose validity is backed by a qualified electronic certificate which:
    • Allows identifying the signer and detecting any subsequent change in the signed data.
    • Is linked to the signer in a unique way and to the data to which it refers.
    • Is created using secure electronic signature creation devices, which the signer maintains under his or her exclusive control.
    • Is created through the infrastructure of a certification service provider registered with the National Directorate of Electronic Signature.
  • Digitised or scanned signature (firma digitalizada o escaneada): Image of the trace of the handwritten signature; the result of scanning an executed document. This type of signature is in no case a qualified electronic signature.

The purpose of Law 51 is to regulate the qualified electronic signature (QES). From reviewing the aforementioned definitions, we can see that the QES is implemented through the use of a cryptographic device that generates - with respect to a specific document - a series of algorithms that relate a message or document with the personal information of the signer.

The cryptographic device for the use of the QES is obtained by applying before the National Directorate of Electronic Signature, which is the entity in charge of authorising and issuing the QES. The QES is the only method whose authenticity is fully presumed. The QES may be granted to individuals or companies (through its representatives). At the moment, QES is mainly being used by banks and government officials for internal procedures.

The main advantage of signing documents using a QES is that it creates a binding effect for the parties regarding the contract or signed document and, at the same time, it has automatic and assumed legal validity. This is not the case for the electronic signature or the digitised or scanned signature, which are more exposed to being rejected by one of the parties, creating the need to pursue legal action to prove the validity and legitimacy of such signature.

Juan Francisco Moreno C.