A court decision this month gives further guidance on when electronic signatures might be legally accepted under law in Australia.
The 13 August 2010 court decision is Getup Ltd v Electoral Commissioner  FCA 869.
The applicant used a digital pen connected to a computer to sign an electronic version of an electoral enrolment form. The witness to the applicant’s signature used the same method on the same form. The completed form was then submitted in PDF format to the Commissioner via an online fax service.
The Commissioner rejected the form on the basis that the applicant's signature did not satisfy the requirements for personal signature under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth).
Applying sections 10(1)(a) and (b) of the Electronic Transactions Act 1999 (Cth), Justice Perram held that the applicant’s method of signing used a signature tool that is “as reliable as is appropriate for the purposes for which the information was communicated.”
Addressing the degree of pixelation of the signatures, Justice Perram described them as resembling a signature that has been faxed, ie not involving a serious degree of pixelation. This was no bar to the validity of the signatures, as the Commissioner's practice was to accept faxed and emailed claim forms in JPEG format.
Justice Perram's reasoning, and the decision, is a useful precedent for those who rely on electronic commerce. The Act sought to achieve technological neutrality when electronic methods are use in legal transactions. The Act has been applied in recent Australian contract law decisions upholding agreements made using purely electronic methods of communication.