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Certified e-mail

Written by Carlo Olivieri - OpenKM Italy, on 20 May 2022

Certified e-mail or PEC, in Italy, is a particular type of e-mail that has the same legal value as a traditional registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt, thus guaranteeing proof of dispatch and delivery.

Despite being an Italian peculiarity, government activities have been underway since 2018 to make the PEC compliant with the EU standard.

To use the service you must have a certified email address at one of the authorized Italian providers. The publication of the list of authorized managers and that of the Public Administration, as well as supervision and coordination, are entrusted to the Agency for Digital Italy (AGID). The content can be certified and electronically signed or encrypted, also guaranteeing authentication, data integrity, and confidentiality.

At the time of sending a PEC, the sender's manager will send a receipt which will constitute the legal value of the successful (or failed) transmission of the message, with the precise timing of the sending. Likewise, the recipient's manager, after having deposited the PEC message in his box, will provide the sender with a receipt of delivery, indicating the time in which this delivery took place. In case of loss of one of the receipts present in the PEC system, it is possible to have an IT trace with the same legal value in terms of sending and receiving, for a period of thirty months, according to the provisions of the regulations.

From the user's point of view, a certified e-mail box does not differ, therefore, from a normal e-mail box except in the communication mechanism, on which the PEC is based and for the presence of some receipts sent by the managers between sender and recipient.

Communication Rules

The recipient user does not view the sender's e-mail, but a message generated by the sender's e-mail manager, which in turn contains two attachments: the “original” e-mail of the sender with its attachments, and a .xml file (text file or can be opened via software) with the same information as the notification sent to the sender (ID of the message, place, date and time of sending, and header data such as e-mail of the recipient type PEC / non-PEC, subject).

Certified e-mail follows the rules established by the Decree of the President of the Republic n. 68/2005 and the subsequent rules envisaged by it, and is managed by AGID accredited providers

Limits in the management of certified e-mails

Most e-mail applications allow, albeit with some limitations, to browse PECs.

It is important to underline that the PEC is made up of a series of linked e-mails, designed to perform the functions of container envelope, notification, shipment confirmation, and receipt. They contain the certificate of authenticity as well as the content of the email and any attachments, even electronically signed.

Some of the main consultation difficulties are:

  • Not all e-mail clients display PECs: PECs are collected and archived by the most common e-mail management programs. Often it is necessary to carry out subsequent elaborations, even manual and of a certain complexity, to find the content in clear text and the attachments in a searchable mode which is generally documented in PDF format.
  • Loss of the relationship between attachments and PEC: The alleged confidentiality guaranteed by the PEC encryption is undermined by the fact that the software for the PEC is installed and used on the PCs that users normally use - and are therefore in most cases exposed to risk resulting from spyware and malware.
  • Size limits: The contractual capacity of mailboxes imposes severe limits on the free circulation of correspondence. In the legislation, there is no mention of what can happen if the series of PEC messages exceeds the capacity of the mailbox purchased, both by the sender and the recipient. Technically, since the PEC is based on electronic mail technology, if the recipient’s mailbox is full, the sender will receive - instead of the delivery receipt - a system error message that informs, with the relative diagnostics, the inability to deliver the message.
  • Substitutive conservation according to law: An additional service of “substitutive conservation according to law” is also required, to extend the time limits of validity of the PEC certificate.


The OpenKM document management system has all the features and capabilities to process Mail and PEC in a single environment of the Mail type. The OpenKM software running on the server automatically extracts the contents and attachments and makes them available, in order to process by to the required management model. The integrated digital signature and processing functions for electronic storage complete the panorama aimed at the complete management of PECs.

With OpenKM, your business will be able to get the most out of your information capital.

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