By Matt Miller
Should states legalize remote online notarization? In today’s challenging climate of data security and internet fraud, some worry that we may be entering dangerous territory when it comes to the security and enforceability of documents notarized online. It’s a slippery slope surrounded by many questions and concerns. Is it possible that this ancient profession won’t be helped by technology?
Preserving evidentiary value of documents
Notarized documents traditionally have robust evidentiary value. Rather than providing similar assurances of evidentiary reliability for online notarization, this technology leaves serious issues. Things like long-term data retention, liability, security, and data privacy are unaddressed. Without tackling these crucial issues, remote online notarization may be endangering the integrity of document authentication and retention practices by prioritizing short-term convenience over proven in-person fraud prevention.
The purpose of the notarial system is not efficiency. Its purpose is to help ensure the validity of signatures used to document certain vital, life-altering transactions and events. These include real estate transactions, the granting of powers of attorney, and the creation of advance health care directives. These events and transactions occur in most people’s lives at least once. And lawsuits challenging the legality of these transactions regularly involve proof that a signature was, or was not, properly notarized.
Proceed with caution when changing notary laws
Changes in today’s notary laws will have significant implications for our civil justice system, and should be undertaken with caution and the utmost care. States must act cautiously to ensure and require that the evidentiary reliability of online notarization is at least equal to, if not better than, traditional in-person notarization.
Threat of losing notarized documents
What happens to notarized documents if a company holding that data goes out of business without first securing or transferring its data. What if data were corrupted or lost?
Notarize, one of the leading platforms and supporter of RON, runs its remote online notary service on Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS provides robust backup services and is a popular option for many internet companies. But what would happen if Notarize ran out of money and was unable to pay its AWS bills?
- Would the records of the notarizations disappear or be otherwise inaccessible?
- What would litigants do if they needed records of one of these notarizations?
- Likewise, what would happen if AWS were hacked and data were corrupted or stolen?
- And what if other online notary services use systems that are less robust and simply abandoned their businesses?
Our present system relies on thousands of private notaries to safeguard and maintain their journals. A single lost notary journal imperils the records of, at most, a few hundred transactions. How many records could be lost if one of these large companies failed? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? This could be extremely detrimental and costly for consumers and businesses worldwide.
Preserving the future of the notarial system
Ultimately, states should consider whether their present notarial system is, in fact, more safe and efficient than an online alternative. If a state does choose to allow online remote notarizations, I hope that the technology implemented is at least, if not more, robust and reliable as our current system – for decades to come.
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