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Electronic signatures gain legal status

Electronic signatures will become legal in 2005

Electronic signatures will carry the same legal weight as written ones, when a new law comes into force in 2005.

The groundbreaking move puts Switzerland among the first European countries to recognise e-signatures.

The legislation will take e-commerce – the purchase of goods and services on the internet – one step further, by making it possible for citizens to sign contracts and legal documents online.

People will also be able to sign up electronically for health insurance premiums and for apartments.

Changes accepted

The law was finally approved in the House of Representatives after parliamentarians accepted several changes that had been made by the Senate.

The House voted by 89 to 85 to tone down the question of responsibility in cases of fraud or abuse of the system.

Under the law, the parties to an electronic contract would be clearly identified with a set of digital codes.

Individuals would be cleared of responsibility for the misuse of their signatures, if they could show that they had taken adequate precautions.

Parliamentarians also decided by 104 to 64 that penalties for the misuse of an e-signature would not be included in the new law, because they considered that there were enough safeguards in place in the existing penal code.

Certain official documents, such as wills or deeds of sale for buildings, will still have to be signed in the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.

Political rift

The legislation, which was pushed through by the centre-right parties, had earlier encountered opposition from the Social Democrats and Greens. They argued that the draft was incomplete as it only covered private transactions.

Opponents were also worried that the law would not prevent fraudulent use of e-signatures.

The Swiss government has been keen to promote the use of other electronic services, including the possibility of online voting.

E-voting has been undergoing trials in Switzerland, in the hope that the Swiss abroad, in particular, would be able to take a more active part in elections.

It could also pave the way for full-blown e-government in Switzerland.

But a study published earlier this year by St Gallen University showed that, while considerable efforts were being made to introduce e-government, substantial gaps still existed.

The government has said that it is keen to see Switzerland among the top countries in the world in terms of daily use of the internet and e-government services.

swissinfo with agencies

A new law making e-signatures legal will come into force in 2005.

Electronic signatures will be valid for some contracts and legal documents, but not for wills and deeds of sale for buildings.

Owners of digital signatures will not be responsible for fraud committed by others, if they can prove they had taken the necessary security measures.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR