Electronic signatures are commonly used for all types of transactions in Singapore, and their use is increasing as a result of expanded use by local companies. Singaporean law makes a distinction between electronic signatures and secure electronic signatures, with digital signatures backed by certificates from trusted service providers treated as a form of secure electronic signature.
In Singapore, the use of electronic and secure electronic signatures is governed by the Electronic Transactions Act, Cap 88 (ETA) and the Electronic Transactions (Certification Authority) Regulations 2010. The Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA) is also relevant to personal information used in secure electronic signatures.
For an electronic signature to be valid, it must meet the following conditions:
For a secure electronic signature to be valid, it must be possible to verify that, at the time it was made, it was:
The above conditions for a secure electronic signature can be met through the application of a specified security procedure (as prescribed under the Electronic Transactions (Certification Authority) Regulations 2010 as well as the Third Schedule to the ETA), or a commercially reasonable security procedure agreed to by the parties involved.
Under the ETA, both electronic signatures and secure electronic signatures are enforceable and admissible. However, in proceedings involving a secure electronic signature, the signature will have the same presumption of enforceability as a “wet signature”. If the electronic signature is not a secure electronic signature, this presumption will not apply.
In addition to the requirements for a valid secure electronic signature, a digital signature must meet the following conditions:
The ETA includes a voluntary accreditation scheme of certification authorities (CAs), which is overseen by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore. However, non-accredited CAs still need to comply with basic duties and obligations, which include the duty to use trustworthy systems in their businesses and to issue, suspend, revoke, and publish its certificates under specific circumstances. Accredited CAs must comply with additional duties and obligations such as undergoing audits prior to each term of accreditation and more stringent requirements relating to the issuance, renewal, suspension, revocation, and publication of its certificates.
Digital signatures based on digital certificates issued by accredited CAs are automatically considered to be trustworthy and are recognised by the law.
Judges are familiar with the laws surrounding e-records and e-signatures. Electronic signatures are widely accepted as evidence, and judges frequently cite the ETA in cases pertaining to signatures and contracts.
In Singapore, PDPA states that organizations shall not transfer any personal data they hold to a country or territory outside of Singapore, except in accordance with the requirements prescribed under PDPA.
Transacting with public sector entities
A SingPass account is required to use electronic signatures with government entities, The Singapore Personal Access, or SingPass system, is a single sign-on online service that allows those with Singapore IDs to be able to transact with government agencies. The “Sign with SingPass” feature on the SingPass mobile application allows users to digitally sign an electronic document. Such digital signatures use certificates issued by Assurity Trusted Solutions (“ATS”), the national certification authority in Singapore. Upon ATS’ accreditation under the ETA, such digital signatures will be regarded as secure electronic signatures.
Use cases that generally require a traditional signature
In Singapore, there are several use cases that generally require a traditional signature. Additionally, there are several instances that require additional consideration for legal compliance of e-signatures such as when transacting with public sector entities. The following are excluded from the ETA and therefore cannot be electronically signed:
The Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Bill amending the ETA was passed by Singapore’s parliament on 1 February 2021. When the relevant provisions come into force, the documents and agreements in bullet point two (2) above may be able to be signed or executed electronically.
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