Through Law No. 59 of March 15 1997 (Law 59) and the relevant implementation provisions, Italy has enacted a reform aimed at recognizing the effects of electronic signatures.
The very innovative principle contained in Law 59 is that deeds, data, documents and contracts made by public entities or private individuals or companies by means of electronic or telecommunication instruments as well as their filing or transmission through electronic or telecommunication instruments are valid and binding in all respects, provided that certain criteria set forth in the relevant implementation provisions of Law 59 are met. Subject to compliance with such implementation provisions, an electronic document to which an electronic signature has been affixed has the same value (also for the purposes of evidence) as a document drafted on ordinary paper and signed by hand. In addition it will be possible, pursuant to the new legislation, to confer a special time validation to documents which will constitute evidence, against third parties of the date and time of documents.
Complex technical requirements and specifications encircle the concept of electronic signing. The solution chosen in order to assure the authenticity of documents processed through electronic data processors is based on cryptography with two asymmetrical keys (one of which is of public domain while the other is known only by the holder) by which the document can be coded or encoded. Correspondence between public keys and the relevant holders will be assured by appropriate certification given by authorized companies registered in a public register. Notwithstanding the strict technical requirements that companies must meet in order to be enrolled in the public register, the first companies have obtained their capitalization in the last month so that it is now theoretically possible in Italy to utilize electronic signing. Obviously, time will pass until a sufficient number of companies or individuals will be equipped with a the software which is needed for affixing an electronic signature and for applying the public key of a counterparty in order to verify the authenticity of a document.