The main feature of electronic documents is that these documents must be created, transferred, used, and stored by means of information technology; it leads to other features characteristic only to electronic documents, which distinguish them from regular (written) documents. Due to the ageing and transience of hardware and software, migration and conversion of electronic documents is a precondition for long-term preservation, since the storage period of an electronic document may be much longer than the service life of the means it was created by.
The new version of the Law on Documents and Archives of the Republic of Lithuania of 2005 laid down a wider definition of a document. The document was defined as the information recorded in the course of activities of a legal or natural person, regardless of its mode, form and medium. It created the preconditions for the emergence of electronic documents and their collection and storage as an integral part of the document heritage of Lithuania.
In 2010, after the Law on Documents and Archives of the Republic of Lithuania was amended, an individual concept of an electronic document was defined: an electronic document is a document of a legal or natural person, which is created, approved or received by information technology tools in accordance with the procedure laid down by regulations and is signed with a legally binding electronic signature.
An electronic document must have all essential and inherent elements: content, metadata, and electronic signatures.
The content of an electronic document is a part of electronic document wherein the information is provided in a textual, graphical or another form.
Another important constituent of an electronic document is metadata defined as structural data describing composition, surroundings of a document and specifics of its management during the entire period of document existence. Metadata is recorded separately from the document content.
An electronic signature must be used to confirm the legal power and authenticity of an electronic document. According to the Law on Electronic Signature, electronic documents may be signed by a secure electronic signature, created by a secure-signature-creation-device and based on a qualified-certificate, or an electronic signature that is not a qualified electronic signature. The definition of an electronic document laid down by the Law Amending the Law on Documents and Archives of the Republic of Lithuania of 2010 does not distinguish a particular mode of signing an electronic document by an electronic signature either.
An electronic document created or received in the course of activities of an organisation or a person is a proof of activities and as such must be retained reliable and authentic, integral and suitable for use throughout the existence of the document. The above qualities of a document are inseparable.
Throughout the service time of an electronic document it is important to be able to identify the author and time of creating the document; to trust the content as completely and precisely reflecting and confirming the activities of an institution and to ensure the veracity of the information recorded in the document; to protect against unauthorised change; to find, present, and understand the document.