The world is constantly changing, and laws need to change accordingly as well to accommodate for this and ensure the safety of the people as well as uphold their rights to the fullest extent. With the way that digital methods has infiltrated all walks and lifestyles around the globe, it is imperative that laws are updated to include the digital realm of communication and transactions, and the Maldives has taken a step in this direction earlier this month.
The Electronic Transaction Bill proposed by the government, sponsored by Member of Parliament Abdulla Waheed, sets the groundwork for this much needed legal evolution. The purpose of the bill is stated to be a means to facilitate both social and economic development, to ensure credibility for business communications via digital or electronic means, to set regulations on how such electronic communications are to be carried out as well as regulations and development on what is simply described as Trust services.
It is designed to be applicable to all transactions, either agreed upon texts or with electronic receipts, signatures and the like, to be taken into legal consideration. It also extends to transactions with parties beyond the borders of the Maldives as well, further emboldening the businesses in the Maldives. This would further ease any difficulties faced with processing electronic transactions with foreign parties as well.
To fully appreciate this groundbreaking legal work, it is important to glance at how the rest of the world has been adopting electronic transactions and evidence into their laws. More than 60 countries around the world have some form of e-signature legislation, and companies of all sizes rely on this technology to get major deals done on the daily. If nations could not guarantee the legality and validity of electronic contracts and online transactions, it would not be amiss to say that global commerce would come to a grinding halt.
The US led the charge in the year 2000 with the E-Signature Act, stipulating that signatures on documents and contracts should not be denied legal effect or ruled unenforceable due to their digital nature. Similarly, in Australia the Electronics Transactions Act 1999 provides a regulatory framework that facilitates the use of electronic transactions and ensures that no transaction will be ruled invalid for the same reason mentioned above. The act was further amended and bolstered in 2011 to provide even more protections to Australian consumers and businesses.
In India, the argument has been raised regarding the volatility of cyber-space. Data can easily be tampered with and manipulated, with videos being cut and edited, voice changes, and documents forged, so the concerns were right to be raised. According to Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, an electronic record can only be admitted as evidence if it is accompanied by a certificate signed by the responsible party describing the manner in which the electronic record was produced, as well as the details of the computer or device that was involved in its production. When the law was first being applied, those in dispute were required to provide printed hard copies of these documents.
Yet today, the digital platforms that are used for e-commerce, digital payments and such are not restricted to single devices of processors; hosting solutions on servers or the ‘cloud’, managed by service providers that have no idea what data is actually being stored on their servers, have changed the playing field by miles, and the legalities are trying to catch up fervently.
Thus in the Maldives, this law could open a multitude of doors that have been closed so far. International payment systems, such as Paypal, may be accessible. Bitcoin and other digital currencies may also be usable. Furthermore, such digital payment methods, electronic signing of agreements between business and consumers, may all be within reach and assist in elevating the rights and conveniences of the people.
Furthermore, this law would also lay the groundwork for tackling bribery, corruption, and fraud crimes that have been surfacing more of late. It could also be used to deal with libel on the internet, cyber-bullying evidences and harassment records, and also protecting those who have had their personal information and data stolen and misused. Time will tell how legal practitioners apply the law, and how relevant ministries would build their regulations upon it.