Legal update: Legislative proposal to amend the Electronic Transactions Ordinance


In this snapshot legal update, we report that on 13 June 2022, in a panel on information technology and broadcasting, members of the Legislative Council were briefed on the legislative proposal to amend the Electronic Transactions Ordinance (“ETO”). 

The proposals will support further implementation of e-Government services by government bureaux and departments. They will replace the role of the Postmaster General as the recognised certification authority with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (“OGCIO”). 

These changes were foreshadowed in the 2020 Policy Address of the Chief Executive when it was mentioned that reforms in the delivery of government services were needed under the Smart Regulator and Streamlining of Government Services Programmes. These programmes focus on facilitating the electronic delivery of government services involving regulation, applications and approvals. 

Some provisions in existing legislation became roadblocks to this digitisation initiative. Specifically, existing sector-specific legislation affected the adoption of certain digitisation initiatives by the Trade and Industry Department, Transport Department and Buildings Department. Some of these obstacles will be addressed in changes to sector-specific legislation. However, the Innovation and Technology Bureau is also recommending the introduction of general amendments to the ETO to facilitate the smooth introduction of digital government services.

The proposed amendments to the ETO are:

  • Presently, if a document can be served on a person by personal service or by post, then service will also be accepted upon service of an electronic record under certain designated conditions. This will be extended to expressly allow that service by registered post can be satisfied by service of an electronic record. This will be supplemented by conditions that will reflect the unique features of registered post in an electronic context – such as sender proof of mailing and acknowledgement receipt. 
  • Since the enactment of the ETO, certain legislative provisions in other ordinances were expressly excluded from the scope of the ETO because those provisions required multiple copies of documents to be submitted or filed to government bureaux or departments. This was on the basis that a single electronic record could not constitute multiple copies. This was at a time when electronic transactions were not prevalent. The proposed amendments will roll back those exclusions. The changes will allow government bureaux and departments to satisfy service of documents by registered post through electronic means and submission of multiple physical copies of documents by a single electronic copy.
  • After a transitional period, the Postmaster General will relinquish its role as a recognised certification authority, and the OGCIO will assume that role. Applications can still be submitted as part of counter services with Hong Kong Post.
  • There will be technical changes to modernise the definitions of electronic record and electronic signature. 

The introduction of the amendment Bill is planned for the fourth quarter of 2022. The government will also continue to encourage government bureaux and departments to advance proposed legislative changes for sector-specific legislation to accomplish the government objectives for the further delivery of e-government services.

The full paper is available here.

Pádraig Walsh

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Pádraig Walsh
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Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.