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Comments made by lawyer Yevgeniya Yevdokimova to the article titled “Public officers obliged to read e-mail” Fontanka.ru

5 April 2011

There will be no need to purchase special software to obtain state services– any individual wishing to obtain necessary keys shall have them for free.

According to the government of Russia, citizens can submit documents, i. e. tax returns via the single portal of state services (www.gosuslugi.ru) for almost a year. Such function does really exist, however, in practice the users should then re-sent their tax returns - this time in paper form. Only those tax payers who obtained the signature key certificates, are entitled not to submit tax returns in paper form. For this purpose they should make contract with a specific operator, to install the appropriate software, etc.

According to federal departments, other state services should already be provided in electronic form as well. For instance, citizens should register themselves as businessmen, file customs declarations, etc. in electronic form, however, in most cases actualization of these concepts is complicated by necessity to use electronic signature – one is bound to conclude contracts, to buy software, etc.

From Justas to Alex

The effective Federal law “On electronic digital signature” provides for an awkward and complicated system which necessitates the use of cryptographic and other firmware, establishment of certification authorities, etc.- only in this context any data sent in electronic form can be awarded the document status.

Such measures are meant to protect data from potential tampering; however, they often prove superfluous and tend to arrest the progress of electronic document management. In Europe electronic digital signature is used by over 70 percent of population, while in Russia it is used by less than one percent of population. This being said, the signature key certificates are mostly obtained by companies, to present the accounts to tax and other fiscal agencies, to participate in the government buying procedures, to be used in telebanking system, etc.

The new law which is already approved by the Federation Council and should be signed by the President of Russia some of these days, stipulates for the usage of 3 types of electronic signature: simple, enhanced and qualified ones. The last type is similar to currently used electronic digital signature. However, one may apply a simple electronic signature, if there is no need of “super protection” “Technically, they represent different levels of security, i.e. capacity to keep the content of a document unchanged during the process of mailing,” said Darya Pyatkova, the lawyer of business practice of Rightmark group. “They also differ in their capacity to confirm that signature is made by the sender. New regulations shall enable participants of relations to choose the digital signature type (except in cases established by law) and the software at their own discretion.”

Any information certified by any electronic signature shall be deemed equivalent to the document in the paper form bearing the applicant’s true signature.

Would you kindly accept it?

Citizens and companies shall not be bound to “negotiate” with government authorities: law-makers determined that documents can be submitted to official agencies with a simple electronic signature, “This being said they will be deemed as documents, equivalent to documents in the paper form, with a true signature and with seal affixed,” said Darya Pyatkova.

It was also decreed that any persons shall be entitled to obtain signature key certificates for free. Prompting private users (citizens and companies) to install special software and hardware shall be prohibited

It cannot be ruled out that the mere fact of user’s authorization at the state portal shall be deemed as equivalent to such simple electronic signature. The point is registration on this portal shall involve several stages of “validation”: apart from general details one should enter one’s tax payer id. number, pension insurance card no., to indicate one’s e-mail and cellphone number, and, finally, to receive a registered letter. The authors of portal believe that post office personnel should prevent falsification (a letter should be handed over against recipient’s passport, however, in reality letters are often simply left in the mail box). Thus, in most cases, any information indicated by registered persons is reliable, and so is authorization of statements sent by them in electronic form.

At the same time the law which should come into effect in April, delegates the government of Russia the task to establish rules of usage for simple digital signatures at provision of state and municipal services. It is unknown when the respective resolutions shall be adopted, and, consequently, when citizens of Russia shall be able to send tax returns, statements and other petitions by e-mail.

Lawyers believe that usage of streamlined procedure of signing electronic documents can result in chaos and abuse, “It is still unclear, what digital signature should be used by citizens to apply to public structures with a view to carry out actions resulting in creation, change and termination of rights and obligations,” asks Yevgeny Yevdokimov. “For example, in applications to state registration of rights (real estate, etc.). The law stipulates that in such applications the qualified electronic signature shall be used. However, it remains unclear whether the usage of such signature is mandatory in such cases.”

Doubts entertained by the lawyer are already confirmed in practice: the adopted streamlined procedure of registration at place of residence (of provisional residence registration) via the above portal of state services resulted in panic among citizens of St-Petersburg. One cannot make an accurate estimate of how the usage of simple electronic signature when submitting documents may affect, for example, the state registration of citizens as businessmen.

A free pleasure

The new law can alleviate situation of small businesses which now are bound to pay for costly services provided by specialized operators. Any organizations with average staffing number of 50 persons and more are liable to present the accounts in electronic form to the tax inspection, the superannuation fund, and the Social Insurance Fund. Receipt of the above documents is on the list of state services, i. e. a simple electronic signature will likely be enough to obtain such services soon.

However, Olga Baranova, the deputy director general of Argos (specialized operator) is confident that tax bearers shall, as of old, be liable to use only enhanced electronic signatures (similar to existing electronic digital signatures). She believes that there is no point in simplifying the procedure: otherwise any person shall be able to submit tax return for anyone - for Gazprom or one’s neighbour (and the latter shall learn about this “joke” from a tax order mailed to him by the tax police). At the same time, one may commit such falsification today as well, by having enclosed the paper tax return into a common envelope: tax agencies don't conduct graphologic examination, and the seal can be made with no need to present any documents.

It also remains unclear, whether it will be possible to submit auction approval notes to participate in electronic auctions for a state-guaranteed order, using a simple electronic signature. However, in practice many businessmen deem it inefficient to pay some thousand roubles to authorized certification centres merely to be admitted to an auction and believe that such measures are just restrictive practices aiming at market monopolization by big companies.

The new law can only guarantee continuity. “The obtained signature key certificates will operate after the coming into force of this law till the expiry of their period of validity,” explained Darya Pyatkova. “That is to say, participants of relations shouldn't be liable to exchange keys for new ones, and their status shall not be negatively affected by adoption of the new law.” 


 Pavel Netupsky, Fontanka.ru

 


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