Digital Notary Services

An eNotary is a Notary Public who notarizes documents electronically. One of the methods employed by eNotaries is the use of a digital signature and digital notary seal to notarize digital documents and validate with a digital certificate. Electronic notarization is a process whereby a notary affixes an electronic signature and notary seal using a secure Public key to an electronic document (such as a PDF or Word document). Once affixed to the electronic document, the document is rendered tamper evident such that unauthorized attempts to alter the document will be evident to relying parties.[1] The e-notary will use cryptography and Public key infrastructure to create, manage, distribute, use, store, and revoke the digital certificate. The Electronic Notary also must keep an electronic register of each act performed.

Following publication of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) in 1999 and enactment of the similar federal E-Sign legislation in 2000, the National Notary Association (NNA) recognized the need to establish rules and standards for a workable, accessible and, above all, a secure system of electronic notarization.[2]

Adapting electronic technology to Notary recordkeeping in a secure fashion became a particular priority for the NNA. The NNA thus developed Enjoa (the Electronic Notary Journal of Official Acts) which enables both electronic and paper-based notarial acts to be recorded and that record to be protected from tampering in an electronic database. Enjoa embodies the essence of the notarial act, which is the document signer’s physical appearance before a trusted and impartial third party who carefully scrutinizes the signer for identity, volition and awareness.

Enjoa allows Notaries electronically to capture both a holographic signature and a fingerprint of each document signer, and it offers the additional option of capturing within its database the signer’s facial image through a Web camera. Enjoa locks in place each electronic entry, preventing any alteration of a saved document — even by the Notary. Whether recording eNotarizations or paper-based transactions, Enjoa provides proof of a signer’s personal appearance, a complete record of the notarial act, and a level of security that cannot be achieved in a paper-based recordkeeping system.[2]

In February 2006, the NNA partnered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in launching the Electronic Notarization Initiative, the nation’s first working, comprehensive eNotarization program. All Pennsylvania Notaries participating in the Initiative used a digital certificate to perform electronic acts that were subsequently submitted for recordation in the four original participating counties. Other counties throughout the state soon enrolled in the program. In July 2009 the NNA teamed up with major technology players SAIC, VeriSign, Adobe and ChosenSecurity in issuing to United States magistrate judge John Facciola a digital identity credential, which the judge used to execute the first digitally signed judicial order in U.S. history.[2]

In 2002, the NNA introduced a comprehensive update to the Model Notary Act (MNA). For the first time, the Act included an Article III (“Electronic Notary”) containing detailed rules and standards for electronic notarization. The 2002 Act asserted that the time-tested fundamental protective principals of traditional notarization must remain the same regardless of the technology used to create a signature.

Providing the needed essential complement to UETA and E-Sign, the MNA’s performance standards showed exactly how electronic notarizations should be performed. The 2010 Act, like its predecessor, is the product of an expert panel of state officials, law professors and attorneys, digital technology experts and notarial authorities, and reflects an electronic landscape vastly changed since 2002. The Act’s new Article III (“Electronic Notary”) evinces the clear and growing consensus that electronic notarization must be both “capable of independent verification” and render any notarized electronic document as tamper-evident. It permits the eNotary to register with the commissioning official more than one means for creating electronic signatures and electronic Notary seals, because Notaries may need to employ multiple technologies to accommodate the different electronic systems of their various clients. Such electronic versatility benefits both the Notary and the business and legal communities. With this latest revision of the Model Notary Act and its thoroughly updated Article III, lawmakers, technologists and state officials are provided with carefully crafted guidelines from which they can adopt sound Notary rules for transactions in the electronic arena, while adhering to the protective fundamental principles of notarization.[2]

Today, eNotarization is a growing reality. Notaries can now lend the same credibility to electronic document transactions that they do to traditional paper transactions.