Pennsylvania adopts e-notarization

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:13 a.m. Feb. 1 to reflect that Rich Hansberger made comments about the National Notary Association's plans to develop electronic notary systems in other states.

Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center is a fitting backdrop for Pennsylvania officials and business leaders to launch a statewide electronic notarization program Feb. 2.

Although the event may not make the history books, notaries say the launch will usher in a new era of secure and authenticated paperless transactions for consumers, businesses and government officials.

“I see e-notarization as a seminal moment to raise the bar for notaries,” said Rich Hansberger, director of e-notarization at the National Notary Association (NNA), a professional, nonprofit group of notaries.

"It’s really the first time a state said, 'This is the way we’re going to do it, and [we're going to] broadcast it as broadly as we can,'” Hansberger said.

Some officials have said Pennsylvania’s Electronic Notary Seal program could be a model for other states that want to provide real-time authentication of notaries and secure delivery of verified electronic notary seals.

A notary is someone who administers oaths and witnesses the signing of documents, such as deeds, affidavits and powers of attorney. In the United States, each state establishes its own notary regulations.

The process of using a public notary is mostly physical, meaning the official must be present to witness a document signing, sign the document and affix a seal to the document.

But some officials who support e-notarization say it facilitates faster and more efficient business processes, reduces costs and eliminates fraud. They say it is almost impossible to counterfeit digital certificates.

NNA has been working with the state’s Department of State for the past two years to develop a Web-based system that uses technology from Microsoft and GeoTrust. Four Pennsylvania counties will use the system for various transactions during the next six months. If the system runs smoothly, the state will allow other counties to join the program, Hansberger said.

Neal Creighton, president, chief executive officer and co-founder of GeoTrust, which provides the digital certificates, said industry must find ways to secure and authenticate documents. He said the technology is now ripe to establish a credentialing mechanism that will reduce costs.

“One of the biggest changes over our lifetimes…is the way information is being exchanged,” Creighton said. “We’ve come a long way in five years, but to get to long term cost savings, we will have to go digital.”

Colorado has a similar e-notarization system in place, Hansberger said, and more than a dozen other states, including Arizona, California, Texas and Florida, are in varying stages of planning or designing an e-notarization system or enacting legislation to move in that direction. Hansberger said NNA is working with many of them to develop a model similar to Pennsylvania's.

NNA’s goal has been to establish national standards or guidelines in which notarized documents from one state will be accepted in another. That isn’t the case now, Hansberger said.

He said businesses are behind an effort to have consistency across the 50 states. “Some are asking, 'Wouldn’t it be possible to do it one way and replicate that from state to state?'”

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