Explanatory Notes

General Format, Manner and Procedure for the Submission of Electronic Information under Law by virtue of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance

Explanatory Note for Layman

This note aims to set out the format, manner and procedure we have stipulated under section 11(2) of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance (Cap. 553) for the submission of electronic information under law.

Language

  • Electronic records in English shall be encoded in the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) promulgated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organizsation for Standardisation (ISO), which is the prevalent coding standard in most English operating system environments such as Macintosh, Microsoft Windows 95/98, or Unix. For the avoidance of doubt, electronic records coded in Extended Binary-Coded Decimal Interchange Code (EBCDIC), which is a character encoding standard commonly used in IBM mainframe machines, will not be accepted;

  • Electronic records in Chinese shall be encoded in Big-5 (大五碼) or ISO10646 standards. Big-5, the coding standard used in traditional Chinese version of Microsoft Windows 95/98, is the commonly used Chinese character encoding standard in Hong Kong, while ISO10646 (more commonly known as Unicode), which is used by Windows NT, is the international standard of character coding in multi-language environment. For the avoidance of doubt, GB (Guo Biao) standard (國標碼)standard, which is the prevalent Chinese character encoding standard used for simplified Chinese characters, will not be accepted;

  • When electronic records are encoded in Big-5 standard, the set of characters to be used is restricted to those coded in the Big-5 standard or included in the Hong Kong Supplementary Character Set (HKSCS) (香港增補字符集) published by the HKSAR Government. HKSCS is available for downloading at the Digital 21 web site of the HKSAR Government at http://www.digital21.gov.hk/; and

  • When electronic records are encoded in ISO10646 standard, the set of characters to be used is restricted to those Chinese-Japanese-Korean (CJK) Unified Ideographs characters coded in ISO10646 standard. While the ISO10646 standard encompasses characters in many other languages (for instance, Greek, Russian or Arabic characters), the set of characters to be used in electronic records shall be restricted to the CJK Unified Ideographs character set.

Manner of Delivery of Electronic Records

Electronic records can be submitted in the following manner:
  • through electronic mail conforming to the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and the Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension (S/MIME) standards promulgated by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and with size not exceeding 5 MB. Electronic mail with size exceeding 5MB will not be accepted.

    SMTP is the de facto standard for electronic mail exchange in the Internet. Most of the common software packages for handling electronic mail comply with the SMTP standard. If digital signature is not applied, compliance with SMTP standard will suffice. Simply speaking, Commonly used electronic mail software such as Netscape Communicator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook, Eudora or other Unix e-electronic mail mail, etc., can be used to send electronic mail in SMTP protocol, comply with the SMTP standard.

    If digital signature is not applied, compliance with SMTP standard will suffice.

    If digital signature is required, compliance with S/MIME standard is necessary.

  • in physical form of 1.44MB diskette with size of 3.5 inches in MS-DOS format for files not exceeding one diskettes storage capacity. In simple terms, floppy diskettes used in the Microsoft Windows operating system environment will be accepted. For the avoidance of doubt, when floppy diskettes are produced using Macintosh operating systems, they should be produced in a format that allows reading in Microsoft Windows environment; or

  • in physical form as CD-ROM in ISO 9660 format. In simple terms, the prevalent version of CD-ROM (including read-only, write-once-read-many, and write-many-read-many CD-ROMs) can be accepted.
For the avoidance of doubt, electronic records in the following physical form will not be accepted
  • Floppy diskettes of size 5.25 inches or 8 inches;
  • DVD;
  • Iomega Zip Disk;
  • Iomega Jaz Disk;
  • Programmable Diskette (PD);
  • Magneto-Optical Diskette (MO);
  • 4mm DLT Tape;
  • 8mm Data Tape;
  • Data Cartridges and Tape Cartridges;
  • RAM cards in any form; or
  • any other physical storage media.

File format

Textual information can be submitted in the form of an electronic record. However, there exists many word processing software, shareware and freeware in the market for different operating systems. While textual documents can be prepared using different types of word processing software, the document shall be saved for submission in one of the following formats:
  • Plain text (TXT), which is a document format in which a sequence of characters and the words they form are encoded into computer-readable format using various types of language coding schemes. Most of the word processing software in the market allow users to save their document as plain text. Please note that when a document is saved as plain text, special effects such as font size, boldface, italics, underline, etc. will be lost.

  • Microsoft Rich Text Format, which is promulgated by Microsoft Corporation. It is supported by the majority of word processing software in the market and can be used to submit files with formatting retained.

    To do so, choose "Save As" function and choose Rich Text Format (RTF)?as the document type. Many word processing software not developed by the Microsoft Corporation also allow the saving of documents in RTF format. For the avoidance of doubt, documents in Microsoft Word format (with extension .doc) are not acceptable.

  • Hypertext Mark Up Language Format (HTML, version 3.2 or 4). HTML is a document format promulgated by the World Wide Web Consortium for the content on web pages. Many word processing software in the market allow users to save their documents in HTML format. For the avoidance of doubt, documents with embedded Visual bBasic code, fFlash, Java scripts, or other embedded programming codes are not acceptable; or

  • Adobe Portable Document Format (Acrobat version 3 or 4) promulgated by the Adobe Systems Incorporated. Tools can be used to convert textual documents into PDF format.

Graphic File format

Graphics in electronic records shall follow the following graphic file formats:
  • Encapsulated PostScript Files (EPSF) promulgated by Adobe Systems Incorporated;
  • Tag Image File Format (TIFF) promulgated by Adobe Systems Incorporated;
  • Windows BitMaps (BMP) promulgated by Microsoft Corporation;
  • Graphic Interchange File Format (GIF) promulgated by CompuServe Incorporated; or
  • Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) promulgated by the International Organizsation for Standardisation (ISO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
For EPSF, a document can be printed to a PostScript File for submission.

For TIFF, BMP, GIF and JPEG, they are supported by the majority of image processing, graphics design, photo processing and scanner accessory software in the market. When these formats are used, the adoption of the following guideline is suggested
  • for textual document, scan the document into TIFF format;
  • for photos and drawings where lower resolution is acceptable, submit the image in JPEG format. JPEG has a relatively higher image compression ratio but the compression is lossy (original image cannot be perfectly reproduced). JPEG files are generally of smaller size and are suitable for transmission in the form of electronic mail and for long term storage;
  • for photos and drawings where higher resolution is required, submit the image in GIF format. GIF has a relatively higher image medium compression ratio and can retain more information than JPEG. GIF files are generally of larger size; and
  • for special types of drawings where resolution and quality are of major concern, submit the image in BMP format. BMP files represent the image bit by bit without any compression. However, BMP files can be of very large size and may be difficult to transmit or store.
In respect of Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings, an open standard, Autodesk Drawing Exchange Format (DXF) promulgated by Autodesk, Inc. is acceptable in most cases. However, many some of the planning, lands and works departments in the HKSAR Government have installed special internal software systems for the related work, and therefore may require also accept under specified circumstances other file formats to be adopted for the submission of engineering graphics or spatial data, such as:
  • Arc/Info Export Format (E00) developed by the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.;
  • Arc/Info Native Format (COV) developed by the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.;
  • AutoCAD Format developed by Autodesk, Inc.;
  • Digital Print Room (DPR) developed by Intergraph Corporation;
  • MicroStation Drawing (DGN) developed by Bentley Systems; and
  • Initial Graphic Exchange Specification (IGES) promulgated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Digital signature

An electronic record submitted under a statutory provision must be digitally signed if: a. the provision expressly requires the signature of a person; or b. the provision requires the submission to be made in a specified form and the specified form has a signature requirement. Only a digital signature supported by a recognized certificate issued by a certification authority recognized by the Director of Information Technology Services under the Electronic Transactions Ordinance is acceptable. A digital signature shall be attached to an electronic record in accordance with the Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension (S/MIME) standard and the Public-Key Cryptography Standards (PKCS). Most upgraded versions of existing browsers in the market can support the use of public key cryptography.

For an electronic record which comprises multiple electronic files and which has to be signed, each individual file shall be separately signed digitally.

Others

Electronic records submitted shall not contain computer instructions. This is a precautionary measure to avoid the submission of electronic records containing computer instructions, such as computer viruses, macros and scripts (which generate different values every time when the electronic file is opened) or fields (the value of which may change depending on the time when the electronic files are opened).