e-signatures

A signature is a unique representation of one's identity.

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By  Dr. Khalid Al Mehairi Published  September 30, 2007

A signature is a unique representation of one's identity. The advent of an "e" environment finds loopholes in the confidence we have in the electronic world due to its virtual, impersonal and unphysical characteristics.

The legal definition of an electronic signature has three components: the digital signature must be an electronic sound, symbol or process, it must be attached to a contract or other record and it must be adopted by a person with an interest in signing.

The internet is an anonymous domain. To protect the authentication of a business transaction, each party must be able to prove the other's identity. The sender encrypts the message with his or her private key so that the recipient can be assured that only the sender could have encrypted it.

Just as a paper contract becomes valid on the physical signatures of the parties, an e-transaction, once made, cannot be revoked. Neither party involved in the transaction can deny his or her role in the exchange. Such non-repudiation prevents individuals/ parties from making false claims about offers made or accepted. To make the exchange more secure digital non-repudiation is provided via digital signatures. This binds the digital signature to the digital message being authorised, making it extremely difficult to counterfeit.

Law and Courts provide paper protection because it is easily identifiable but does law spread its protection cover on the realm of "e" business? Of course it does. However, we live in an age of fast electronic communications. Developing though the legal infrastructure may be, there are laws for protection of the wire and the wireless media. Speaking from a legal perspective, according to the Dubai Law No.5 of 2001, documents with electronic signatures will be admissible as evidence in criminal investigations.

Furthermore, Law No. 2 of 2002 Concerning Electronic Transactions and Commerce enhances this stance. It is meant to facilitate e-correspondence through reliable e-books; remove any barriers to e-commerce and other e-transactions; facilitate submitting e-documents to government departments and institutions; reduce the number of submissions of e-correspondence and amendments thereto; set uniform criteria for documentation and security of e-correspondence; boost the public's confidence in security and validity of e-books and correspondence; and enhance development of e-commerce and other transactions, locally and internationally, through using e-signature.

Under the new Electronic Transactions and Commerce Law, Law No. 2 for 2002, an e-signature shall be regarded as equally valid as that on paper. According to the new law, an electronic document or file shall be regarded as original if there is reliable technical evidence proving that it accurately reproduces the information originally created and it permits information to be presented on request. Under the said law an electronic document or signature may not be rejected just because it is electronic. Electronic information shall have legal validity and in judging this validity, certain requirements must be met such as:

● Reliability of keying in or creating, saving, presenting or sending processes.

● Reliability of the method in which information is secured.

● Reliability of the source of information.

● Checking the identity of the creator of the information.

● Any other relevant item.

It is presumed that a secured e-signature is reliable, and is that of the person involved and specifically approves the electronic document attached to it. It is further presumed that a secured electronic document has remained unchanged since its creation and is reliable.

Although electronic signatures are yet being legally documented and acknowledged under the UAE Law of Evidence, the new local laws mentioned above have recognised electronic signatures and digital certificates and have outlined the criteria according to which an electronic signature or a digital certificate shall be considered valid.

Additionally, there have recently been initiatives in the country to remove security doubts from online transactions by making digital certificates commercially available in the UAE. Digital certificates, another example of the e-world, facilitates secure transactions over the internet allowing secure exchange of sensitive information online, which service providers claim will increase business in the UAE. Information exchange is kept confidential and tamper-free using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology. A subsidiary of Etisalat (the UAE government-owned Internet service provider) makes digital certificates commercially available to UAE nationals, UAE Internet users, UAE residents and their dependents. Individuals and businesses in the UAE can now complete the necessary paperwork and be issued with a digital certificate, which they can use to make online transactions.

So law and security go hand in hand and are just an arm's length away be it whatever innovations man comes out with through the paper-world or the e-world.

Dr. Khalid Al Mehairi is a Managing Partner & Attorney at Law for Emirates Advocates in Dubai

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