By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-05-01 Print this article Print

-Notarization Mechanics"> How to the actual software procedures work for e-notarizing a document? The Pennsylvania and NNA sites are not very specific about it. One very popular way is to use Adobe Acrobat, which has good support for digital signing.

There are also a number of vertical software companies that have had to contend with the notarization process and which are excited at the possibility to provide for electronic notarization directly in their products.
Consider Simplifile, which makes products for electronic document recording at counties, or Tyler Technologies, which makes products for (among other things) property appraisal and assessment.

Its also possible to use any free, off-the-shelf software that supports x.509 certificates (Microsoft has some for free download). These might be inconvenient, in that you might have to separately track a file with a signature in it, as opposed to using a format like PDF that supports signatures intrinsically.

No matter how they are made, if they follow established PKI x.509 standards the notarys certificate can be checked by anyone not only for authenticity with the certificate authority (GeoTrust, under contract to the NNA), but check to see if their authority has been revoked or expired. Try doing that with a conventional notary.

The PKI infrastructure thus makes notarization much more secure than in the paper world, where its too easy to photocopy a stamp or seal and duplicate it. Its a pretty radical change, though, for a practice that has been pretty stable for hundreds, arguably thousands of years.

And its not just a matter of getting individual notaries to embrace the electronic approach; there are state-to-state and international legal issues. What happens when someone tries to use in one state a legal document electronically notarized in another that doesnt yet have electronic notarization? The NNA says that such a case is in the courts in Michigan now and that they have filed an amicus brief in it in support of electronic notarization.

The Constitution requires that states grant "full faith and credit" to the legal decisions and procedures of others, but to an old-fashioned state facing an e-notarization, it must surely seem as if the Martians have landed.

As widespread as PKI is in computing, I have to think its been substantially a failure for not reaching so many areas to which it can bring value. Notarization could be a bellwether for the movement of PKI into mainstream applications where strong authentication and accreditation are needed. If it cant be made accessible and compelling enough, people will resist it, and that would be to everyones loss.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at larryseltzer@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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