21
Aug

Electronic Notary Seals

There has been a lot of buzz about electronic notarizations. A few states allow their notaries to perform notarizations while communicating with the signer via web cam; around 20 states allow electronic notarization provided the signer is present with the notary (in the traditional sense, such as being in the same room).

One question that comes up is seals. Obviously one can't stamp a file on a hard disk with a rubber stamp, nor can one crimp the hard disk with an embossing seal. What are the states doing about seals?

Some statistics

According to a summary by the Texas Secretary of State office, of 56 states and similar entities, 47 require seals on paper documents and 9 do not. Probably the states that don't require seals on paper documents won't require them on electronic documents either.

Nine states have enacted the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (RULONA). This act doesn't require a notarial seal (which RULONA calls an official stamp), but does require that the notarial certificate contain

  • the notary's signature (not necessarily an image of a handwritten signature, could be typed)
  • the jurisdiction where the notarial act is performed
  • the title of office of the notarial officer
  • if applicable, the notary's commission expiration date.

Other states have similar provisions. This flexibility allows file formats that do not support images to be notarized by using only text.

Details matter

Of course, the devil is in the details; some states may modify the RULONA before adopting it. In other states, even though the law doesn't seem to require anything that looks like a traditional seal, as long as the necessary information is there, the executive branch rule-makers may require something that looks like a traditional seal.

Points of confusion

In internet forums, the phrase "electronic notary seal" is often used as a synonym for everything a notary needs to perform electronic notarizations. Clearly this is not the case; a significant number of states do not require the image of seal on enotarized documents.

Also, products are available in the marketplace that are described as electronic notary seals, but they have nothing to do with electronic notarization. These images are added to a document before it is printed. After the seal image is added, the document is printed and signed with pens by hand.

Security

It's worth pointing out that the image of a notary's seal doesn't provide much security. Once it gets recorded in the land records of a place that makes the original electronic form of the records available to the public, it will be easy to make a copy and put it anywhere. It's the public key cryptography that has the potential to make electronic notarizations secure.

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