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Traditional notarization is done with the signer and the notary standing in the same physical space in front of each other. Usually, this happens at a bank or other commercial provider of notary services. The ID verification is made by the notary who examines the government-issued photo ID presented by the signer. Then, the signer and the notary sign the paper document with a pen, also known as a “wet signature,” and the notary affixes a raised seal. The signer leaves with the original notarized document. Because notarial services are considered essential in most jurisdictions, traditional in-person notarization is available just as it was before COVID.
Note that some traditional in-person notarizations are done electroncially. With electronic, or e-notarization, the signer and the notary must still be physically located in the same room at the same time, and the notary still does an in-person inspection of the signer's ID. The only difference is that the documents and the signatures are all electronic rather than wet signature and paper.
With remote online notarization, or RON, also known as web cam or virtual notarization, the signer appears before the notary using two-way audio-visual technology over the internet using a platform like Zoom, Adobe Connect, or GoToMeeting. The entire process must be live and continuous with direct audio and video communication, all of which must be recorded and then stored for 5-10 years, depending on the state where the notary is commissioned. Before signing, the notary uses a third-party automated process, known as credential analysis, to verify certain security elements of the signer's ID. Additionally, some states also require ID proofing using knowledge-based authentication, or KBA. The exact procedures vary by state, but generally to complete ID proofing with KBA, a third party generates 4-5 questions based on the signer's credit reports and other personal data, which the signer must answer correctly in two minutes. Once that's done and the signer signs, the notary's signature must have a digital certificate issued by a third-party using public key infrastructure, or PKI, which verifies the identity of the notary who electronically signed the document, and renders the document “tamper-evident.”
All states except California and South Carolina currently have procedures in place for getting a document notarized remotely without being in the physical presence of a notary.
Starting with Virginia in 2011, 17 states—Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia--had already enacted laws allowing remote online notarization, or RON, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, 12 more states--Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin--have enacted RON legislation.
Since COVID, many states--Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wyoming--have issued emergency authorizations that allow for some form of online notarization. Just like the traditional notary procedures vary from state, so do the emergency procedures. Emergency executive orders authorizing RON will expire unless they are extended.
Governors in several states—Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Vermont--have issued emergency executive orders in response to COVID that authorize Remote Ink Notarization, or RIN. which allows notaries to perform a paper and wet ink signature notarization, but may meet the personal appearance requirement online. Note that in South Dakota, RIN is authorized by law rather than by temporary executive order.
With RIN, the notary and signer appear before each other using a live, real-time video conference solution such as WebEx, GoToMeeting or Microsoft Teams. The notary identifies the signer using the methods allowed for traditional in person notarization used in that state. The signer signs the document and electronically transmits it by e-mail or fax to the notary during the video conference. The notary prints the document received from the signer and completes the notarial certificate in pen and ink during the video conference. The notary electronically transmits the notarized document back to the signer during the video conference. In some states, like New York, if the signer and notary exchange a paper document via snail mail, once the notary receives the signed document from the signer, they are allowed to backdate the notarization to the date of the recorded signing.
Like RON, RIN requires that the signer and the notary meet live online using two-way audio video technology so the notary can witness and record signer signing the document. The ID verification requirement is also different with RIN and RON. With RIN, the ID verification is done on the spot by the notary. There is no requirement for a third-party vendor to do the ID proofing/credential analysis. The signer hold the ID up to the camera so the notary can read it, record it and confirm that the picture matches with the signer appearing on video. Also unlike RON, with RIN the signer makes a wet signature on paper and then transmits it to the notary, and the notary signs and seals the paper document, so there is no need to use a third-party vendor to issue a digital certificate for the notary's signature. Finally, with RIN, the signer must be located in the same state unlike with RON, which only requires that the notary be physically present in the state where they are commissioned regardless of where the signer is located.
Some states that already have enacted RON legislation may also have emergency executive orders temporarily suspending certain requirements to make remote notarization easier. For example, most states that have fully implemented RON require notaries with traditional commissions to also obtain separate online notary commissions. With executive orders, some governors have temporarily suspended the online commission requirement because of COVID. Similarly, some states with enacted RON legislation also have executive orders temporarily authorizing RIN, so that notaries can observe the signing remotely just like with RON, but can then transmit wet signed documents electronically without the signer going through the third-party credential process or answering knowledge-based questions, and without having a third-party issue a digital certificate for the notary's signature.
Your circumstances dictate whether online notarization or traditional notarization is best for you. Some may find online notarization easier than traditional notarization because it can be done without leaving your home. However, for those who struggle with technology, a traditional in-person notarization might be easier. Likewise, because of the ID credentialing process, some signers may find RON invasive and time consuming, especially in states that use knowledge-based authentication questions as part of ID proofing.