Archiving of documents by companies is a topic introduced to the wider public in Serbia at the beginning of 2020. It attracted much attention beginning of this year when the new Law on Archive Materials and Archiving Activities (“Law on Archiving”) started to apply. It introduced strict obligations on archiving of various documents produced by companies in their day-to-day operations. However, certain practical questions arose, one of them being the possibility of archiving originally paper form documents in an electronic form.
The Law on Archiving introduced an obligation for companies to keep all “documentary material”, such as receipts and invoices, and it favours the perseverance of such material in the form in which it originated, in an orderly and safe condition. If, however, for practical reasons, a company wishes to archive such voluminous material in an electronic form (eg. paper form receipts issued to customers in the ordinary course of business), it would need to ensure this is done in the form of “trustworthy electronic preservation”.
The provisions of the Law on Archiving alone do not suffice to understand the concept of trustworthy electronic preservation, and reference is to be made to the provisions of the Law on Electronic Document, Electronic Identification and Trustworthy Services in Electronic Commerce (“Law on E-Document”), as well as the Regulation on Conditions for the Preparing of Documents for Trustworthy Electronic Preservation and Document Formats Suitable for Long-term Preservation.
There is a number of conditions to be met to ensure trustworthy electronic preservation of paper form documents according to these regulations. As the first step, the company has to prepare internal guidelines for the preparation of documents for trustworthy electronic preservation, which should establish rules and measures to be applied to the company’s information system to ensure compliance with the ISO/IEC 27001 “Information security management” standard.
The company then must prepare the documents for trusted long-term preservation, which among others includes the verification of the authenticity by a qualified electronic signature or stamp. Qualified electronic signature and stamp must be created in accordance with one of the following standards:
The company also needs to keep a protocol on all the activities carried out within the process of preparation of the documents for trustworthy electronic preservation, including the data on person in charge of this process and the date, time and place of the preparation.
The Law on E-Document also introduces the possibility of a “qualified electronic preservation” which is trustworthy electronic preservation performed by a third party registered to provide such services. If the company opts for qualified electronic preservation, the Law on Archiving explicitly grants it permission to subsequently destroy original paper form documents.
However, the Law on Archiving and the Law on E-Document did not decipher beyond a doubt whether companies that opt for the regular, non-qualified trustworthy electronic preservation performed on their own, can also subsequently destroy the original paper form documents or not. Following the rationale of the solutions introduced by these laws, we see no reason why original paper documents, such as receipts, could not be destroyed once they are stored electronically in the form of trustworthy electronic preservation.
As of now, without further guidance by the legislator, the option of archiving paper form documents in an electronic form does not seem that simple and companies would need more clarity and guidance on how this process is regulated and should be performed before deciding to take the route of electronic archiving.