The California League of Independent Notaries (CLIN) is voicing its opposition to a federal bill that would make it legal to notarize paperwork remotely and online. The appropriately named Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote Online Notarization Act (S. 1625 – SECURE Notarization Act of 2021) was first introduced in the early days of COVID-19 to make sure that papers could still get processed when the pandemic made it unsafe to do so in person.
The CLIN is arguing that the bill is already obsolete now that the US is starting to reopen. It also objected to the content of the bill itself, essentially suggesting that the country should never switch to an online notarization system. It is therefore asking federal lawmakers to abandon the proposal, and to refrain from considering any similar legislation at any point in the future.
The SECURE Notarization Act would establish minimum standards for online notarizations. In that regard, the notarizations would need to be done via video chat, and the notary would need to verify the other person’s identity and the authenticity of any documents they present. They would then need to be able to apply an electronic stamp or seal to the final document.
The problem, according to CLIN, is that such a process would be vulnerable to fraud, since video footage can be manipulated with deepfake technology. That concern is certainly valid, as are the organization’s broader concerns about privacy. The CLIN notes that the bill does not have any privacy guarantees, nor any language that would prevent online notarization companies from using the information they obtain for commercial purposes. For example, those companies could sell personal information and details about signed documents, or use the content of a video chat to train a face or voice recognition algorithm.
However, the organization’s blanket opposition to remote technology seems to be out of step with the general march of progress. That remains true even when compared to other regulated industries like finance, where remote services are rapidly becoming the norm, largely because those services are more convenient and make it easier for more people to participate in the modern digital economy.
The CLIN, on the other hand, is running in the other direction, and is deliberately trying to slow progress in favor of a legacy system that relies on physical paperwork and in-person meetings. Such a policy would make notarizations more difficult to schedule, and make the process far more time-consuming for regular civilians.
Some of the CLIN’s concerns could theoretically be addressed with stronger privacy protections, and with better identity verification and deepfake detection technology. The organization nevertheless wants the federal government to leave notarization in the hands of the states, arguing that a national law will result in thousands of lost jobs because tech companies will take over and provide consolidated notarization services.
June 9, 2021 – by Eric Weiss