Australian government to embrace digitalization with acceptance of electronic signatures and video link witnessing

The government believes this move could save over $156 million annually and increase efficiency. However, concerns have been raised about the loss of tangibility, accessibility issues, and potential security vulnerabilities.

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The Australian government has announced it will embrace digitalisation by accepting electronic signatures and video link witnessing for statutory declarations from next year. This move, initially introduced during the pandemic and has now become permanent through legislation, aims to align with Australians’ digital engagement expectations with the government. The legislation will also allow the digital execution of statutory declarations using the online platform myGov and the myGovID Digital ID.

The government believes that this shift to digitalisation could lead to significant cost savings, estimated at over $156 million annually, and save hundreds of thousands of hours. Moreover, accepting electronic signatures reflects the changing preferences of Australians, who increasingly favour digital communication and engagement methods.

However, concerns have been raised regarding this digital transition. Meryl Kane, a justice of the peace, feels that something tangible and fundamental could be lost with the digitisation of signatures. Another significant concern is related to the security of electronically signed documents. John Brodie, the New South Wales Justices Association’s state president, doubts the government’s ability to implement robust fraud and security arrangements. He argues that digitising statutory declarations and affidavits could open the door to hackers and scammers, debasing the authenticity and importance of these legal documents. Brodie also expresses concerns about coercion, asserting that video link witnessing may not provide sufficient safeguards to ensure that individuals are not being coerced into signing anything.

Why does it matter?

The Australian government’s decision to accept electronic signatures and video link witnessing for statutory declarations represents a significant step towards digitising government services. The debate continues regarding the potential impact of digitising signatures and the crucial need for robust security measures to protect the authenticity and integrity of legal documents.