Electronic signatures play an important role in international business and commerce. Worldwide, companies of all sizes rely on e-signature technology to get major deals done on a daily basis. If national governing bodies could not guarantee the legality and validity of electronic contracts and online transactions, then e-commerce would most likely come to a grinding halt. This is a major reason why lawmakers in so many countries have made it a priority to enact national e-signature legislation.
Across the globe, more than 60 countries have established their own laws and standards regarding electronic signatures and digital transactions. However, this growth is only beginning. The number of countries that have some form of legislation regarding e-signatures is continuing to grow every year.
Of the many countries that have enacted e-signature legislation, a few have adopted laws, acts, and policies that stand out for their thoroughness and inclusivity. These include:
Enacted in June of 2000, the E-Sign Act was the United States’ first major federal law that ensures the legality of contracts signed with e-signatures. The E-Sign Act stipulates that signatures on documents and contracts should not be denied legal effect or ruled unenforceable simply because of their digital nature.
The UETA was proposed by the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws with the goal of bringing consistency to various state laws on the subject of e-signatures and online document archiving. The UETA – which has been adopted by 47 states thus far – paved the way for electronic checks and signatures. It is frequently held up as an example of a law that protects the legal enforceability of electronic agreements.
Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, better known as PIPEDA, regulates how consumer data should be treated with regard to privacy and security. The law is intended to promote e-commerce by increasing the consumers’ trust in dealing with businesses in Canada’s private sector.
Australia’s Electronic Transactions Act provides a regulatory framework that facilitates the use of electronic transactions and ensures that no transaction will be ruled invalid simply because it was completed electronically. This act was most recently amended in 2011 to provide even more protections to Australian consumers and businesses.
The EU Directive was the first wide-scale e-signature legislation to take effect in the European Union. All member states were required to be in compliance by July of 2001. The Directive is similar to the U.S. E-Sign Act, in that it provides protections for businesses and consumers that agree to conduct business online using e-signatures and digital documents.
Based on the framework provided by the EU Directive, the United Kingdom’s Electronic Communications Act provides guarantees as to the legal acceptability of e-signatures with regard to encryption services, electronic communications, and data storage for people living in England, Scotland, and Wales.
The Electronic Signatures Regulation 2002 went hand in hand with the 2000 Act in implementing the rules already put in place by the European Union in its 1999 Directive. Based on the 2002 regulations, an e-signature in the United Kingdom is any form of electronic data that is attached to or associated with another piece of electronic data. These regulations are considered broad in scope.
India’s Information Technology Act, also known as the IT Act, was designed to address the growing concerns of businesses conducting transactions online within India. The Act itself provides legal recognition for electronic documents and digital signatures, although much of the initial framework was disassembled in an amendment to the Act, which was passed by India’s parliament in 2008.
The bulk of Japan’s e-signature regulations derive from the Law Concerning Electronic Signatures and Certification Services. The law promotes the use of electronic records and states that e-signatures are important to the nation’s economy and to the quality of life for its citizens.
Adopted in 2004, the Electronic Signature Law of the People’s Republic of China aimed to standardize the way that e-signatures were created in China and protect the interests of people who participate in transactions online. By standardizing and regulating how electronic data should be handled, the Electronic Signature Law in effect provides all the framework necessary to ensure that e-signatures remain legally binding in China.
When it went into full effect in 2003, New Zealand’s Electronic Transactions Act recognized the important role that e-commerce and e-signatures will play in the country’s future economy. To foster that, the Act provides protections to consumers and businesses and allows for electronic communication between businesses and the government.
Many countries that have more recently adopted e-signature legislation have done so under the guidance of the U.N.’s UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Signatures (MLES). Adopted in 2001, the MLES establishes a reliable set of technical criteria that legislators can use when creating their own e-signature laws. The MLES is technology neutral and non-discriminatory, and it puts more emphasis on the certificates that are used in the creation of an e-signature than the specific country or location where the signature was made.
The following countries have also adopted some form of e-signature legislation: