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    Draft Law to regulate e-signatures

    Date published: 1 July 2002

    In order to encourage and empower e-business, e-commerce, and e-governance within the framework of the National Communication and Information Technology Plan, there is a palpable and pressing need for a law to regulate electronic signatures (e-signatures). Such a law must allow expanded use of electronic media in a manner that safeguards the rights of those engaged in e-business and e-commerce and at the same time guarantees the credibility and legality of this commerce.

    In this regard, Decree No. 209 of the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, issued on December 18, 2000, created a committee made up of representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Finance, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Economy and Foreign Trade, the Ministry of State for Administrative Development, the Egyptian Central Bank, and the Cabinet Information and Decision Support Center, in addition to legal and technical experts from academia and from the private sector. The purpose of this committee was to prepare a proposal for a draft e-signature law.

    The committee undertook comparative studies of the experiences of other countries and international bodies, including draft laws for e-commerce and e-signatures issued by the United Nations (UN Committee for International Trade Law, or UNCITRAL), the United States, France, Ireland, Malaysia, and Tunis, and decisions of the European Union, in addition to those of other developed and developing nations. The Egyptian draft law to regulate e-signatures has also been reviewed by the Legislation Department at the Ministry of Justice.

    The draft law contains several key points. First of all, it grants e-signatures and information written electronically or digitally the same legal status (in civil, commercial, and administrative matters) as traditional signatures and documentation recognized under the current legislation. In practice, the law would include all civil, commercial, and administrative transactions recorded and signed electronically when they are carried out according to the provisions of the draft law and its executive ordinances. In order to offer the necessary protection and oversight, the law requires all agencies that offer electronic verification services or any other services related to e-signatures to obtain licenses.

    The law also makes it possible to refer to the executive ordinances regarding provisions of a technical nature. This makes it easier to make amendments or substitutions by ministerial decree when necessary while guaranteeing the rights of those affected by the law. Special concern is given to the principle of determining responsibility and apportioning risks. Additionally, referrals to the executive ordinances are based on the principle of impartiality towards the specific technologies used in creating e-signatures. This keeps the text of the law itself independent of the effects of future technological changes in this vital and active field (i.e. technology independent).

    The law names the Agency for the Development of the Information Technology Industry as the entity responsible for regulating and setting standards for e-signatures in Egypt, as well as auditing, monitoring and licensing Certificate Authorities, which in turn could be private or public entities. It also allows the criminalization of actions that harm the credibility of e-signatures and related technologies. The aim of this measure is to build trust in these technologies by imposing a system of public and private checks on their use.

    Making it possible to use e-signatures will support the transformation to a paper-free world in which the property and interests of all can be protected. Expanding the use of e-signatures will also increase the quality of administrative work, and will help refine government services in a manner consistent with the modern age. By its nature, it will also add to Egypts competitive merits in the new world of commercial order, of which electronic transactions have become a defining characteristic.

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