Introduction to Legal Aspects of Digital Certificates

In this article, we will provide a generic overview of the legal aspects associated with issuing digital certificates.
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Introduction to Legal Aspects of Digital Certificates

In the era of digitalization and technological advancement, an increasing number of documents and certificates are issued in digital form. This trend is particularly evident in the fields of education, business, public administration, accreditation, and even in the European ESG sector. Digital certificates offer many benefits, such as ease of management, easy access, authenticity verification, and a reduction in paper usage. However, with technological development comes new challenges and legal issues that require understanding and regulation. In this article, we will provide a generic overview of the legal aspects associated with issuing digital certificates, with a particular focus on certificates backed by blockchain technology.

First, let's define what a digital certificate is. It is a document in an electronic form that confirms certain characteristics of objects, facts or the rights of individuals or institutions. The issuer of a digital certificate can be a private organisation, certifying authority or trusted third party that confirms the data contained in the certificates is authentic. A typical example of a digital certificate could be the carbon footprint certificate issued by the company Envirly for their customers, secured by blockchain.

Regulations Concerning Digital Certificates

Fortunately, the issuance of digital certificates is not subject to strict regulations, but there are specific standards aimed at ensuring security and legal certainty. Some examples of such regulations are the following.

  1. In many countries, there are regulations governing the activities of certifying authorities. These regulations define security standards, verification and revocation procedures, and data storage requirements.
  2. The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union has influenced the collection and storage of personal data in digital certificates. Issuing authorities must adhere to privacy and personal data protection regulations.
  3. Issuing incorrect certificates or their misuse can lead to civil or tax liability. These regulations must clearly define the consequences of issuing an incorrect or forged certificate.

Challenges Associated with Digital Certificates

Despite numerous regulations, there are still challenges associated with digital certificates:

  1. As technology becomes more advanced, new threats such as fake certificates or attacks on public key infrastructure may arise. Therefore, data security issue must be continuously addressed by regulators.
  2. As many transactions and interactions move into the digital space, it is important that regulations are consistent on a cross-boarder level. As businesses and individuals operate on a global scale, digital certificates and certificate authorities should meet international acceptance. Legal frameworks should also address the mutual recognition of digital certificates, acknowledging the validity of certificates issued in one jurisdiction in another.
  3. Regulations concerning digital certificates should address issues of access to technology to ensure that all citizens and businesses have equal opportunities to use digital certificates.

Using Blockchain Technology in Digital Certificates

In today's world, blockchain technology plays a significant role in the issuance, enforceability and verification of digital certificates. By employing blockchain, it is possible to effectively verify the authenticity of a certificate and track its history, providing greater legal certainty and higher level of security in the process of a credential verification. Thanks to advanced mathematical algorithms and cryptographic protocols, all data and electronic transactions in the blockchain are resistant to forgery and tampering.

As the DLT (Digital Ledger Technology) gains popularity, regulatory issues related to it appear, especially in the context of digital certificates. Key regulatory issues include:

  1. For digital certificates based on blockchain, there is a question of who is responsible for maintaining and managing the blockchain network and the security of the stored data. Blockchain allows the storage of digital certificates in a way that may affect intellectual property rights. Regulations must define the rights of certificate owners and blockchain operators here.
  2. The introduction of blockchain-based digital certificates must comply with personal data protection regulations, such as the GDPR in the European Union. Storing data in the blockchain must be carefully regulated to protect user privacy.

Digital Signature for Digital Certificates

Electronic signature is an integral part of issuing a digital certificate today. Signing certificates  grants authority and power to them as to any other document issued by legal entity or legal person. Blockchain-based advanced electronic signature, compliant with eIDAS regulation, takes the whole process yet onto another level though. It leverages the unique attributes of blockchain technology to provide unparalleled authenticity of the document.

Unlike traditional digital signatures, which rely on centralized authorities, blockchain-based signatures distribute the verification process across a decentralized network of nodes. Each e-signature has a timestamp (digital id) which is cryptographically sealed, and recorded in a tamper-proof blockchain ledger, ensuring that once a certificate is signed, its integrity remains intact. This not only enhances the trustworthiness of the signer but also reduces the risk of fraud and manipulation. Moreover, blockchain-based digital signatures offer real-time verification capabilities, allowing stakeholders to instantly confirm the validity of a certificate.

The Future of Digital Certificates and Blockchain

Although we already see some pioneers leveraging the space with blockchain-based certificates, there still is a potential for wider adoption. Blockchain provides greater transparency, security, and data durability, contributing to increased trust in digital certificates. However, like any powerful technology, the use of blockchain should be approached with caution. To fully harness this potential, the following things are crucial:

  1. Close cooperation between the public and private sectors,
  2. Stakeholders education,
  3. International regulation standards setting.


Issuing digital certificates is a complex process that is subject to many regulations and requires attention from certifying authorities, regulatory bodies, and users. Regulations and legal aspects related to certificates are largely subject to contractual freedom; however, certificates must be issued in compliance with the law and the interests of the other party to the transaction. It should be noted that some types of certificates require specific legislation (e.g., energy certificates), regulations, or  niche-specific rules. The above is only an introduction, and each type of certificate should be examined separately.

Visit DoxyChain to learn more about a blockchain-based platform for certificates management which allows to issue, e-sign, store, distribute, suspend, revoke, track and verify any digital document.

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