Electronic Notary Public in Virginia

This is a guest post by Amy Weiss. Amy is originally from Richmond, Virginia and is a second year law student at the University of Richmond.  She graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2007 where she studied history and anthropology.

This Session at the Virginia General Assembly  State Senator John Edwards sponsored SB827 (there is a companion bill on the House side sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron), which would allow the use of public notaries to notarize documents via video or audio technology.  This would not require the notary to be in the presence of the signer as long as the signer’s identity was supported by sufficient evidence.  In addition, the bill would relax the requirements for the commission of electronic notaries, also called e-Notaries. 

A common law notary public is authorized by the local jurisdiction.  A notary’s main function is to serve as a non-biased witness to the signing of certain official documents.  The notary’s job is to make sure that all required formalities are followed.  The most important part of the notary’s job is to affirm the identity of the person coming before him.  It is important for notaries to meticulously review this information and follow all legal procedures.  If a notary fails to observe all required procedures, he can be sued.

Electronic notarization is relatively new in Virginia.  It has only been permitted  here since 2008.  A small minority of other states including Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania also permit electronic notarization.  In Virginia, to be registered as an electronic or “e-Notary,” you must first apply and receive a commission from the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth.  Current Virginia law also requires the physical production of identification to the notary in person.

SB827 would certainly relax some of the notarization laws for electronic notarization.  It has raised some concern.  In particular, some critics fear the bill would make it easier for people to commit fraud by making fake identification documents which the notary would not scrutinize in public.  It will be interesting to see how the law develops to accommodate the new technology of electronic notarization in the future.

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3 thoughts on “Electronic Notary Public in Virginia

  1. AYIN International, Inc. supports sb827 and the courage and foresight Senator John Edwards and the Virginia legislature in regards to taking steps to make history in the State of Virginia as the “VIRGIN” State for legalization of remote electronic notarization and enhance the security for the most dynamic medium in existence today: THE INTERNET.

    We agree with the cornerstone of notarization requiring personal appearance of a signer before a duly sworn notary public. However notaries need to understand that personal is appearance is not physical personal appearance. This is ground zero for a lot of the confusion in understanding the support for e-Notarization and more specifically remote e-Notarization.

    Notaries Public underestimate the attraction and convenience of e-Commerce and even more importantly their roll in bringing their notary skills to increase its’ integrity for business transactions.

    The fact of the matter is we need live notaries in real time on-line right now! The global economy is beginning to make its stand and the need to have the eyes of the people on Internet transactions, which currently occur without a trusted human witness, has resulted in many instances of fraud and misrepresentation and identity theft.

    What needs to be understood is that manual notarization will be the biggest beneficiary of sb827, because some people will opt for and feel more secure if they met with a physical notary public. Notaries using a real-time video-conferencing recording technology will serve those who handle business on-line. This will open a new revenue stream for notaries public supporting high fees. The usage of real-time video conferencing recording has many benefits.
    1. The most important benefit is the recorded real-time video conference notarization file. This technology teamed with a live notary is a powerful tandem for deterring fraud and misrepresentation.Notaries public can support their memories and handwritten journals of a notarization via archived video-conference recordings, and electronic journals.
    2. Facial recognition technology supplanting thumb-print biometrics is adaptable to current government authority criminal databases for cross checking.
    Another major opportunity allows Notaries Public to expand their roll of surveillance and reconnaissance not just for court proceedings requiring presentment of notary transactions, but also for interlinks with government agencies such as Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in their efforts to secure the Homeland. Because of the allowance for digital audio video conferencing as a basis of satisfactory evidence, notaries public may be instrumental in indirectly providing proof for illegal notarization in terrorist activities to secure passports, financial documents, etc…..
    I‘ve personally had many discussions on this issue. Notaries maintain that they can’t determine if an I.D. is valid via video. The reality is a notary cannot determine if an I.D. is valid in person because they do not have the tools to do so. A notary’s roll is to be a witness between two parties to a contract. Notaries are not identification validating experts. For example in the State of California a notaries public may accept a driver license that has expired for up to one year.

    Some Notaries argue that someone maybe off camera holding a gun to signer’s head in a video conference. To a degree bank tellers act as notaries to determine if a person seeking to make a withdrawal or a deposit is who they say they are. The bank teller will witness a depositor’s endorsement of a check and even verify the person signature.

    Not even a notary does this. Yet how many notaries today use an automated teller machine to access their money. Today people still have the option of going into a bank or they may use a machine on the front or side of a building to access money. The point is how many people have used an ATM to withdraw money at gunpoint vs. how many people who have withdrawn money from an ATM safely.

    I don’t blame notaries for the recent real estate mess but all real estate documents are to be notarized and recorded. The question is: How many homeowners signed real estate loan documents under duress or even had the capacity to know what they were signing? The bottom-line is something went terribly wrong.
    I understand Notaries apprehension regarding the future of their time honored practices however advance’s in technology based on security requirements and economic globalization, mandate the need for notaries to participate in cyberspace and do their part to deter fraud and identity theft, protecting the end user and the e-Commerce Eco-system as well. It’s viable and possible. Lionization’s: to distinguished Senator John Edwards and visionaries of the Virginia legislature.

  2. This all sounds so ‘now’, but I wonder ‘what are you thinking’?? Are you thinking?
    Anyone who has a computer has had the experience of buying a new computer and discovering all their older and much needed programs don’t work with the new OS.
    Going forward with this (not well thought through) plan, how do you archive decades of videos AND make them accessible–yet still adhere to privacy issues–when a problem occurs? As for the statement “how many…use an ATM”, my response is: how much ATM fraud is going on right this minute? And this will just create more opportunities for fraud… all ya’ need is a $20 webcam and Photoshop.

  3. At the end of the day, notarizing anything via video conference is an option, not an obligation.

    Notaries are not without reason described as a person of impeccable integrity. – Online
    video conferencing can and will ease certain notarial acts, in particular for returning customers.

    I intend, for example, to work with patent lawyers submitting documents to the US Patent office in Alexandria, VA – So, I will request that the first time, the counterpart appears in person, and I will keep a scan of his/her passport or other acceptable form of government ID and photo on file. From then on, since I have identified the signer once “traditionally”, I will allow him/her to appear through a video conference, hopefully saving those people hundreds of hours of traveling throughout the year.

    Will I notarize documents of people not known to me before? – Apply common sense. If the
    attorney in who’s office the signer appears is known to me for a long time, and he will copy the signer’s ID in addition to making an statement himself that he knows his customer. – Probably I will – If the nature of the document is extremely sensitive, such as the other parents consent to issue passports and/or a travel authorization to leave the country with their common children traveling alone, perhaps I won’t. (Always ask yourself, why the customer has chosen me. – Why
    would someone choose you, perhaps hundred of miles away, if he could just go across the
    street in his town, and have his signature notarized traditionally in a UPS store?)

    Be a notary, try to be helpful, but use common sense and dare to say no, if you feel not
    comfortable.

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