“Electronic” signatures relate to any electronic representations of a name, such as those found on the bottom of emails, whereas “digital” signatures have a narrow technical definition and rely on asymmetric cryptosystems. In 2019, the UK Law Commission concluded that electronic signatures were valid for the vast majority of business transactions and legal processes. It was, however, acknowledged that numerous uncertainties existed which hindered their use. These uncertainties derive from the numerous technologies that are available to electronically, or digitally, sign documents. Despite the introduction of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance (“ETO”) in 2000, some confusion concerns the perceived difficulties of distinguishing between electronic and digital signatures as well as the broader questions whether, when and how digital technologies can be used to meet formal requirements. The ETO necessitates a distinction between different types of digital signatures and also introduces the additional requirements of integrity and reliability. The resulting questions seem particularly timely given existing efforts to limit the need for physical presence of the transacting parties and the general push to promote the digitization of commercial dealings. The seminar aims to bring some clarity into this field by examining the relevant law, the underlying technologies and evaluating the implications of paperless transactions. It also examines broader problems of standardization and the mutual recognition of digital certificates in international contracts.
The following questions are discussed:
- What are digital and electronic signatures? What are their underlying technologies?
- To what extent, if any, can they replace “traditional” signatures and other forms of document authentication
- What is their legal status – are they equivalent to traditional signatures?
- What are the problems surrounding their adoption in a cross-border context?
- What are the practical implications of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance?
About the Speaker:
Dr Eliza Mik teaches Legal Technologies and Contract Law at CUHK LAW. Prior to joining CUHK, she was researching and teaching at the Singapore Management University, Bocconi University and at Melbourne Law School. Before joining academia, she worked in-house for a number of software and telecommunications companies in Australia, Poland, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. She advised on technology procurement and e-commerce regulation. Her PhD focused on the private law aspects of e-commerce and on the legal implications of transaction automation. Since 2014, she has been researching smart contracts and blockchains. Eliza has advised the World Bank and the Monetary Authority of Singapore. At present, she is a member of the UNCITRAL Expert Group for the Digital Economy, a member of the Inclusive Global Legal Innovation Platform on ODR (Hong Kong), a Research Associate at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Society and Technology and an Affiliate Researcher with the Centre for AI and Digital Ethics at the University of Melbourne.
The Law Society of Hong Kong has awarded this seminar 1.5 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points.