The Internet Age has created the advent of electronic document processes which include virtual signatures and the accredited certificate of authentication. Globally, many countries such as the United States and the European Union have legal laws. These laws have similar legal attributes and consequences but they still differ depending on the jurisdiction.
Australia has a high-income economy and one of the highest GDPs in the world. It has a lot of trade dealings globally as well as tourism and service-based businesses. The nation has many free trade agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Canada, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and the United States to name a few. With Australia businesses interacting regularly with other countries, it leaves the question of whether the virtual signatures are legal and admissible in the country.
Are virtual signatures legal in Australia?
In order to compete in the global economy with Europe, Asia, and America the need for accepting virtual signatures became more relevant in Australia. The use of virtual signatures is mandated under Commonwealth legislation and applies in every Australian State and Territory. In Australian law, a written signature is not the guarantee required for a valid contract. Generally, contracts are deemed valid if the involved competent parties reach an agreement and consent to it, be it through verbal, electronic or physical means.
The law is found in Section 14 of the Queensland Electronic Transactions Act 2001 or commonly called the Queensland ETA. The approach to electronic or virtual signatures is a technology-neutral one which makes it flexible using such signatures since there are many options available. However, legally enforceable electronic signatures are still regulated.
The Queensland ETA specifies the use of e-signatures with the following ordinance:
- the system is legally required to ensure that it identifies the person signing and clearly indicates their intention
- the system must be dependable
- the other parties must confer their consent to the system in place.
However, the mandates require that traditional documents such as deeds and wills to be signed by hand. These also require a witness, which is understandably more difficult to electronically. Other transactions are clearly excluded based on the Queensland ETA, include court documents or tribunal documents, official Commonwealth documents such as passports, intellectual property documents such as patents and copyrights, bills of exchange, insurance documents and powers of attorney.
Impact of Virtual Signatures
Australia’s Queensland ETA was to standardize the use of electronic records and e-signatures. Establishing a certification regime solely for digital signatures has led to the advancement of e-commerce. It has also led to the creation of a sturdy transaction framework that has parties confirming their identities and consent while reducing the incidence of forgery.
The Australia laws on virtual signatures are flexible while offering principle-based regulation, that focuses on both the outcomes as well as detailed rules. The laws require in the end that the nature of the virtual signature should be traceable to the involved parties while having authenticity. Using digital signatures in documents detailing commercial transactions and business deals are typical uses of virtual signatures within Australia.