Given that digital technology has fundamentally changed countless industries, electronic notarization is only the obvious next step for the notary industry. The speed and ease with which documents can be sent, signed, and secured has already changed the way we notarize. It allows people to enter into legally-binding agreements from any corner of the globe without the unnecessary and sometimes costly delays of sending paperwork via snail mail.
Understanding Electronic Notarization
Notarization is a process by which an upstanding and reputable citizen authorized by the state can act as a witness to the signing of agreements between two parties. The notary ensures that the stakeholders in the contract have verified identities and are acting without duress and of their own free will. Electronic notarization or e-notarization as it is also called, enables signing without the need for parties to be physically present onsite. The process accepts signatures in any digital form.
The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) defines an e-signature as, “…an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”
UETA also clarifies that e-signatures will be acceptable just as paper-and-ink signatures as long as the documents have, “…. together with all other information required to be included by other applicable law [i.e., the notarial certificate, seal information, commission expiration date, etc.] is attached to or logically associated with the signature or record.”
E-Notarization Was First Initiated in 1999
As the American Society of Notaries explains, e-notarization came into being in 1999 with the passing of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). Containing clauses compiled by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law, UETA created a comparable legal status between traditional inking and digital signatures for the signing of paper documents and finalizing transactions.
The following year, in June 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN). E-SIGN legalized electronic financial agreements between entities residing in different states and locations across the globe. Both these acts made it possible for authorized notaries to authenticate and sign digital documents that are binding in a court of law. Legalization also provided safeguards for protecting documents from tampering after they had been notarized.
Most States Have Adopted E-Notarization as a Legal Practice
The streamlined and convenient processes of signing documents have led to many states adopting E-SIGN. More than 36 states have laws that allow an eNotary to verify agreements. These states include Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, among others. Some of the other states are in the process of passing laws that will permit commissioned notaries. States such as Nevada, Texas, Virginia, and Montana have added webcam remote online notarization to their legal notary laws. By the year 2020, it’s probable most states will have implemented e-notarization entirely after having approved providers of the necessary technology as outlined by this list released by the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Leaders of the Industry – DocVerify
Each of the states will be approving Notary Technology Service Providers (NTSPs) such as DocVerify. E-notaries who wish to apply for commissions must sign up with any of the platforms. In an attempt to protect digital signatures and notarial acts, the states require that the authorized eNotaries maintain a journal of the documents they sign and verify. The official platform used to notarize documents must record copies that will be added to a journal. To further safeguard the entries, the digital platform will assign a unique and secure identification number to each of the personnel. This number will ensure that any tampering with the original documents can be easily detected.
E-Notarization is Projected to Have a Significant Impact on the Economy
Experts are recognizing the significance of e-notarization and its positives for the economy. Businesses opting for digital signatures can enter into contracts with their partners without having to wait for days or weeks until documents are dispatched and received. By signing paperwork via video conferencing, stakeholders can ensure that all mandatory fields are filled correctly thus eliminating the possibility of delays because of errors and omissions.
Companies can keep up with growing green practices by minimizing the use of paper, a factor that can earn them more business in an era where eco-friendly operations often have an edge over the competition. Enterprises can save time and resources they would have spent on extensive paperwork, book-keeping, and maintaining records. Customer satisfaction by providing protection against data breaches is yet another crucial factor working in favor of e-notarization.
Technical Barriers to E-Notarization
Although signing documents in the presence of an online notary can change the pace of the American economy, the process has several snags that providers must address first. To begin with, not all states have implemented the relevant laws, which may create discrepancies in the validity of the documents. This factor can become a problem when the signatories and notary work out of different states.
Like the American Bar Association warns, providers of the e-notarization technology must also work out how to store documents in a tamper-evident format and make sure the stakeholders and notary each have copies for future reference. Authorized notaries must also have audio-video recordings of the online proceedings for future use. The possibility of fraud and presence of unauthorized people (out of visual range) during the signing can also lead to the risk of data breaches, theft, and duress.
E-Notarization is Here to Stay
Considering the immense convenience and speed of transactions offered by e-notarization, the platforms and processes are here to stay. In the future years, digital providers are likely to offer more advanced services and eliminate the common pitfalls as e-notaries continue to expand their operations.