eID Easy – How free qualified signatures work with the closer look into Estonia

By |

By Margus Pala, CEO, eID Easy

Estonia had free qualified electronic signatures for 20 years now and there is a thriving ecosystem where almost everything is signed using QES. The same thing is happening in many other countries:  Austria with ID offers a free signature portal, Portugal with Chave Movel allows free QES creation, and the list goes on.

eID Easy is helping businesses get the most value out of the free QES. We pay decent amounts to QTSP-s but there is still money left for our own costs. We have seen how free QES allows us to make money and we are happy to share the details with you as well.

First of all, there will not be any free QES. If there is no money, then no TSP will lift their finger until somebody pays to issue certificates and create signatures.

Estonia has 3 main options for creating QES: National ID card, Mobile-ID and Smart-ID. Last two are maintained by our fellow CSC member SK ID Solutions.

  • The ID card has QES certifications issued based on a tender and everyone has it by default as it is a mandatory document for all citizens. There are well-built developer guides, so it is fairly easy to integrate signing documents on this smart card to your application.
  • Mobile-ID is based on a SIM card and it is used to cost up to 1 EUR per month which was to be paid to the mobile operator. Now, it is mostly included in your mobile package by default, without any additional charges.
  • Smart-ID is a free mobile application with LoA high and remote QES capability using Splitkey whitelabel solution where private key 3072 bits are in the device and 3072 bits in the remote HSM.

All these tools can be used to sign documents for free by any end-user in an app called DigiDoc4. This app is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iPhone meaning that any Estonian can sign documents on any of their devices free of charge. The Estonian Information System Authority is developing and maintaining the DigiDoc4 and footing all the bills for QES and qualified timestamps created there.

This app has one major downside, it does not integrate with any of the business processes, as it is a completely standalone product. With any mentionable volume document signing flow you need to email the documents back and forth which quickly can become unmanageable. This also means that businesses that want to sign documents in their workflows need to pay in order to get direct access and save money by digitization.

Key to QTSP success is to make sure everyone has their certificates. More certificates will create more usage, more transactions and therefore, more value.

eID Easy believes that the future of Europe and the World will be very similar. Qualified electronic signatures will cost very little and there will be exponential growth in use cases and volumes which will fully compensate for the reduced transaction costs.