A simple, ancient practice, one that often goes unnoticed despite the critical role it plays in the lives of millions of Americans, is getting modernized. Another ancient practice — resistance to change — is raising some misplaced worries about the safety and security of these needed improvements. We’re talking about online notarizations. 

Over a billion documents are notarized each year — you probably know the drill. You sit down with a notary and the document to be notarized, the notary squints at your ID, looks at you, looks back at your ID, and then fills in some blanks on the document and applies a stamp. The seal is completed, and your document is official.

These simple ceremonies make possible some of life’s most important events, like buying cars, getting married, adopting a child, buying a house, and in some places, voting. But when people can’t be in the same room with a notary, either because it’s just inconvenient, or because of lockdowns and quarantines, what used to be simple and easy becomes complex or impossible. Fortunately, leading-edge technology has your back.

For many years, innovators in the space have been working on solutions that bring notarization, which dates to the Roman Empire, into the 21st century. They have developed technologies that update the process to mirror the modern way you do your banking, shop, and do pretty much everything else: by using the internet.

While they have built a variety of technological improvements to the notarization process, the one with the biggest impact is remote online notarization or RON. 

Remote online notarizations allow consumers to connect with notaries online, at their convenience, all day and all night, from their own homes. The consumer is safe and secure in their own home, as is the notary. Aside from the physical safety of both parties, it’s also important to to debunk myths and explain how RON has the potential to promote a safer and more trusted digital experience

RON is as safe and secure as the old way, with multiple layers of protection built right in. 

Remote online notarizations were designed to prevent fraud and are much more secure than in-person notaries. RON provides an alternative to paper and pen signatures and captures the session on video, which is the least-likely scenario a potential fraudster would put themselves in.

The notarial process — old and new — is meant to prevent forgery and impersonation. Unlike general-purpose video conference services like Skype, Zoom or Facetime, RON platforms were made to require verification of the signer’s identity through complex but streamlined knowledge-based authentication questions and forensic ID verification to both verify and document who actually signs a document. It does so without the risks of human error and physical proximity.

Notaries are legally stewards of the government — they get their privileges from the state in which they live, and their powers and procedures are regulated by statute. RON providers partner with states to ensure key security provisions and requirements are baked into new laws. The requirements include multi-factor authentication of the unknown signer and any remotely located witnesses; live audio-video recordings of notarial sessions; robust audit logs; and tamper evident journals. These laws make certain that RON platforms are safe and secure.

A trustworthy remote online platform requires data privacy. The platform allows for the consumer to be the owner and in control of their signing account and data, and the provider must comply with state privacy and cybersecurity laws. 

Perhaps the most significant safety measure and final line of defense is the notary, who protects the integrity of the notarial act. The notary reviews the proof of identity and decides whether it is sufficient. The notary controls the signing and can end the session if something seems improper. 

With the potential to give the millions of U.S. notaries a new tool to do their work, to drive new and innovative digital identity technologies, to provide fraud prevention at a digital signing table, and to include security protections needed to allow citizens to conduct their most important moments — maybe notarizations aren’t as simple as we thought.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of HousingWire’s editorial department and its owners.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Sarah Wheeler at swheeler@housingwire.com

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