The Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) (Cap 88) was first enacted in July 1998 to provide a legal foundation for electronic signatures, and to give predictability and certainty to contracts formed electronically. In July 2010, the ETA was repealed and re-enacted to provide for the continuing security and use of electronic transactions.
Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to enact a law that addresses issues that arise in the context of electronic contracts and digital signatures, and continues this trend by being amongst the first to implement the United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23rd November 2005 (the UN Convention). The Electronic Transactions Bill was introduced in Parliament on 26 April 2010, and passed on 19 May 2010. The re-enacted Act came into force on 1 July 2010.
The Singapore ETA follows closely the UN Convention, which is an update to the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce, to better fit the current Internet environment. The UN Convention sets a new global standard for national electronic commerce legislation.
The ETA addresses the following issues:
- Commercial code for e-commerce transactions: The ETA was enacted to create a predictable legal environment for e-commerce. It clearly defines the rights and obligations of the transacting parties. It also addresses the legal aspects of electronic contracts, use of specified security procedures (including digital signatures) and concerns for authentication and non-repudiation.
- Use of electronic applications for public sector: In order to facilitate the use of electronic transactions in the public sector, the ETA contains an omnibus provision through which government departments and statutory boards can accept electronic filings and electronic versions of documents without having to amend their respective Acts. It also allows public bodies to issue permits and licences electronically.
- Liability of network service providers: Singapore recognises the importance of network service providers in providing information infrastructure and content. The government also realises that it is impractical for network service providers to check all the content for which they merely provide access. To create a transparent legal environment conducive to the growth of network service providers, the ETA specifies that network service providers will not be subject to criminal or civil liability for such third-party material, in relation to which they are merely the host. The clause, however, will not affect the obligations of a network service provider under any licensing or other regulatory regime established under the law.
- Provision for the development of security procedures such as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and biometrics: the ETA provides for the appointment of a Controller to enable regulations to be made for the licensing and accreditation of specified security procedure providers, such as certification authorities (CAs), and including recognition of foreign CAs.
The Evidence Act (Cap 97) was also amended in 1997 to allow the use of electronic records as evidence in the courts.