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eIDAS Qualified Timestamping – the ugly duckling of trust services?

On a simple check on Google we can find pages and pages on electronic signature and trust services, but only very few on timestamping. We imagine that it is hard to live in the shadow of the mighty powerful electronic signature, but there is no reason why timestamping should be overlooked, on the contrary. It is such a powerful tool to collect solid legal evidence and manage legal liability.

Timestamping – a short overview

First of all, what is timestamping? In the context of eIDAS framework (Regulation 910/2014 on Electronic Identification and Trust Services, article 33), it is defined as a service to record the time and date from independent sources when a specific transaction took place or a document was created in order to prove with high confidence that the respective transaction or data existed at that specific point in time.

We actually use timestamping (not necessarily as defined in eIDAS) in our everyday lives quite often. Do you remember the old digital photo camera that could insert the date and time on the photo? That was a form of timestamping. When we write the date next to our signature on a contract, we can also say that we timestamp it. In fact, we can track the creation or modification date and time of most of our activities in online or on the PC. The downside is that they are based on the computer clock or a local clock system. These can be easily changed to reflect another date and time than the real ones, which means that their accuracy and authenticity can be easily questioned or challenged in court. So, here comes into play the eIDAS Qualified Timestamping.

eIDAS Qualified Timestamping – making time and date trustworthy

A Qualified Timestamp is a timestamp that meets the security requirements set in eIDAS – Article 42:

1. It is able to detect if the data has been changed after timestamping, guaranteeing its integrity at the time of signature or creation.
2. It is applied according to independent time sources linked to Coordinated Universal Time, which guarantees the accuracy of the date and time.
3. It is supplied only by a Qualified Trust service Provider (QTSP) which acts like a trusted third-party that vouches for the compliance of the service. More on QTSP, you can read here.

A Qualified Timestamp adds trust and confidence whenever the date and time are recorded, eliminating the risks of using uncertified clock systems. It is also an invaluable tool to enhance your protection and credibility in case of legal dispute.

Qualified Timestamping – expected and some unexpected applications

Qualified Timestamping has a very large applicability. Basically, it can serve whenever you must know with high level of confidence the date and time of a digital asset or transaction. In addition, you can timestamp virtually any type of data from the classic digital documents, to databases or codes.

Timestamping is commonly used for recording and tracking the date and time of stock market transactions, cloud services log files, medical reports, or NDAs. It helps protecting intellectual property and securing copyrights. It can also be used in more unusual situations, for example to insert the date and time of satellite images of crops so that the insurers can better manage claims after natural disasters.

Qualified Timestamping is an additional service to strengthen the qualified electronic signature. As you may know, the latter is based on a certificate with a certain validity period (3 to 5 years). By applying a qualified timestamp on your electronic signature, it will allow you to verify and prove that certificate of your electronic signature was valid at the time of signature even after it expires or gets revoked.

We believe that the Qualified Timestamping deserves a little bit more credit given its utility and the fact that it is actually quite easy to use. It can be applied automatically to large archives and companies do not need to install any intricate software. So, to get back at the question in the title – why is the timestamp the ugly duckling of eIDAS? Most likely, there is not enough information out there or the one already existing is not accurate enough.

We have been providing Qualified Timestamping since eIDAS entered into force and we are proud to have guaranteed the date and time integrity for more than 27,000,000 documents and assets in 2019 only. If you have any questions regarding this service, you can contact our experts here.

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