Electronic signatures are popular in consumer agreements in Hong Kong, particularly in online transactions. However, use of electronic signatures is increasing for less complex agreements, such as purchase orders or procurement contracts. There is also increasing use of digital signatures, supported by recognized digital certificates, around online government services.
In Hong Kong, the Electronics Transaction Ordinance (ETO) governs the use of electronic and digital signatures. The ETO recognizes two different types of signatures that have the same legal effect as a physical signature: electronic signatures and certificate-based digital signatures. Both electronic and digital signatures are recognized as having the same legal status as a handwritten signature as long as the requirements under the ETO have been satisfied. However, unlike ordinary electronic signatures, certificate-based digital signatures are granted a statutory presumption as to their veracity and authenticity if they are supported by a certificate issued by a recognized certification authority.
Digital signatures. In order to be enforceable under the ETO, a digital signature must be:
If a government entity is a party to any transaction, then only a digital signature will be recognized as satisfying any signature requirement under the law.
The Government Chief Information Officer maintains an online public record of each recognized certification authority, which can be accessed here: https://www.ogcio.gov.hk/en/our_work/regulation/eto/ca/disclosure_records/index.html
Electronic signatures. In order to be enforceable under the ETO, an electronic signature must be:
There is currently minimal case law regarding the enforceability of electronic signatures. However, due to the increasing popularity of electronic signatures for online transactions, Hong Kong courts are generally familiar with the laws surrounding electronic and digital signatures.
Use cases that require a traditional signature
Hong Kong recognizes the validity of electronic signatures for most contracts and documents, but under the ETO the following documents must be signed with a traditional wet signature in order to be valid:
In addition, the ETO also sets out specific proceedings in which electronic documents and signatures may not be used. These include court proceedings and those in front of certain tribunals and appeal boards.
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