UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Signatures (2001)

Date of adoption: 5 July 2001


The Model Law on Electronic Signatures (MLES) aims to enable and facilitate the use of electronic signatures by establishing criteria of technical reliability for the equivalence between electronic and hand-written signatures. Thus, the MLES may assist States in establishing a modern, harmonized and fair legislative framework to address effectively the legal treatment of electronic signatures and give certainty to their status.

Why is it relevant?

The increased use of electronic authentication techniques as substitutes for handwritten signatures and other traditional authentication procedures suggested the need for a specific legal framework to reduce uncertainty as to the legal effect that may result from the use of electronic means. In response to such needs, the MLES builds on the fundamental principle underlying article 7 of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce with respect to the fulfilment of the signature function in an electronic environment by following a technology-neutral approach, which avoids favouring the use of any specific technology or process. This means in practice that legislation based on this Model Law may recognize both digital signatures based on cryptography (such as public key infrastructure - PKI) and electronic signatures using other technologies.

Key provisions

The MLES is based on the fundamental principles common to all UNCITRAL texts relating to electronic commerce, namely non-discrimination, technological neutrality and functional equivalence. The MLES establishes criteria of technical reliability for the equivalence between electronic and hand-written signatures as well as basic rules of conduct that may serve as guidelines for assessing duties and liabilities for the signatory, the relying party and trusted third parties intervening in the signature process. Finally, the MLES contains provisions favouring the recognition of foreign certificates and electronic signatures based on a principle of substantive equivalence that disregards the place of origin of the foreign signature.

Additional information

The Model Law is accompanied by a Guide to Enactment, which provides background and explanatory information to assist States in preparing the necessary legislative provisions and may guide other users of the text.