Hong Kong Electronic Signature Law and Certification Authority Regulations: Promoting E-commerce In The World's “Most Wired” City

June 16, 2012

Hong Kong is perhaps the “most wired” city in the world and has one of the best environments for e-commerce. Hong Kong’s e-signature law is a major contributing factor to this environment. The Electronic Transactions Ordinance Act of 2000 (“ETO”) allowed the utilization of only one form of electronic signature-digital. This ran contrary to the trend in global electronic signature law; which encourages nations to give legal recognition to more than one. Accordingly, the ETO was amended in 2004 to allow for: (1) multiple forms of electronic signatures to be used in the private sector, with retention of the digital signature requirement for official electronic communiqués with the government; (2) electronic delivery whenever the law specifies that delivery is to be “by post or in person;” (3) bifurcation of the Annual Report of Compliance Assessment pertaining to certification authorities (“CA”), with one part to be performed by an independent auditor, and the other part to be achieved with submission of a sworn statement from the CA; and (4) a requirement that major changes in the CA’s organization must be reported immediately to the government. Also in 2004, and pursuant to the ETO, the government issued the Code of Practice, a lengthy document meticulously specifying the standards and procedures for carrying out the functions of a CA. The Code of Practice includes detailed requirements for both the CA’s Annual Report of Compliance Assessment, as well as the requirements for the contents of the CA’s Certification Practice Statement. Both of these documents are required to be submitted to the government by the CA and play an important role in oversight of their activities. Therefore, while the amended ETO now recognizes the validity of more than one form of electronic signature, it is strengthening the degree of trustworthiness of digital signatures through more stringent regulation of CAs. However, consumer protections remain deficient; the author recommends that the ETO be amended again to rectify this oversight.