[LINK] Does High Court GetUp result clarify e-witnessing? [was: High Court case Re: Register Online to Vote Should be Legal]

Tom Worthington tom.worthington at tomw.net.au
Mon Aug 23 10:31:18 AEST 2010

Stephen Wilson wrote:
> ... I wonder if you've had a chance to look at any of the detailed 
> deliberations, now GetUp won this case, and if they clarify at all the 
> legitimacy of witnessing performed 'electronically'?

The Federal Court decision "Getup  Ltd v  Electoral Commissioner  [2010] 
FCA 869", 17 August 2010 is available at: 

The part I found most interesting was:

"21. The real point is the ease with which the signature tool allows 
careful manipulation of a signature. But again, accepting that to be so, 
one needs to pay proper attention to the fact that the  Commissioner 
will accept a claim form in the form of a JPEG file and that such a file 
is easily manipulated or photoshopped. In order for this ability to vary 
a signature to provide a persuasive basis for rejecting the signature 
tool there would need to be some principled basis for distinguishing the 
alterable nature of a JPEG file (which the  Commissioner  will accept) 
from the alterable nature of the signature tool (which the  Commissioner 
  will not). I am unable, as presently advised, to discern such a 

22. Granted then that faxing and emailing a JPEG files satisfies, for 
the  Commissioner ’s purposes, the requirements of s 10(1)(b) it must 
follow, and I find, that the signature tool and the ozenrol site 
likewise satisfy that provision.

23. It follows that ******’s claim form of 22 July 2010 was signed by 
her as required both by s 98(2)(b) and 102(1) of the  Electoral Act. ..."

Also Damian Sturzaker, one of the solicitors for the case, has written a 
commentary: "An historic victory in the Federal Court", 15 August 2010 

It should be noted that this decision effects only the process of 
registering, not casting a vote. Most voters are still required to cast 
a paper ballot, although some voters, such as the blind and military 
personnel can vote electronically.

> I reckon witnessing is one of the missing pieces in e-signature 
> practice, where we need some fresh technological solutions, and/or a
> review of why execution of certain documents needs witnessing in the 
> first place. ...

Yes, the simple translation of "signatures" into "digital signatures"
does not work very well. When it comes to "witnessing" it makes little
sense and is all but unworkable.

Presumably "signatures" are used to:

1. Identify a person,
2. Link a person to a document,
3. Give the person the sense that what they are "signing" is important
and so they need to make a full and truthful statement.

These could be done in other ways online.

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM, TomW Communications Pty Ltd. t: 0419496150
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617, Australia  http://www.tomw.net.au
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Computer Science, The
Australian National University http://cs.anu.edu.au/courses/COMP7310/

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