ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Getting married, buying a house, creating a will. All of these major milestones share something in common - a notary. Paying someone to stamp your paperwork has been part of doing business since Roman times. Lauren Silverman of member station KERA reports that technology is now transforming this ancient custom.
LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: Since the founding of our nation, notarizations have been done pretty much the same way.
I'd like to get something notarized.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK.
SILVERMAN: In person. Every year, there are hundreds of millions of notarizations in the U.S.
ADAM PASE: Despite the fact that there are so many notarizations in the U.S., the industry really hasn't changed much in literally centuries.
SILVERMAN: Adam Pase is co-founder of Notarize. It's a company that connects signers and notaries remotely 24 hours a day. The idea first became possible when Virginia passed a remote notarization law in 2012. In June, Texas became the largest state to follow. The process, Pase says, is simple. You upload a document - say, a will or a marriage license - connect with a live notary on a split screen, verify your identity...
PASE: And the notary witnesses the person sign either on their mobile device using their finger or on their computer by typing their signature. And then the notary applies their electronic signature and an electronic version of their stamp or seal.
SILVERMAN: The whole transaction is recorded. Right now, apps like Notarize are available to everyone in the U.S., but online notaries are certified and based only in Virginia, Texas and soon Nevada. Other states have tried to pass similar legislation, but ditching those ink notary stamps for convenience has been controversial.
BILL ANDERSON: It's the notary issue of the year.
SILVERMAN: Bill Anderson is with the National Notary Association. He says there are more than 4 million notaries in the U.S.
ANDERSON: In the notary community we're split on this issue. Allowing that appearance to take place via audio-video communication technology is certainly new and to some extent untested.
SILVERMAN: One of the main concerns has to do with identification. How can an online notary make sure you are who you say you are? Here's the Texas authentication process. First, the notary runs your government-issued photo ID through third-party verification. Then, Anderson says, the notary asks questions that might be drawn from a credit report.
ANDERSON: The identification provisions are pretty strong.
SILVERMAN: The other worry for webcam notarization is around coercion. Lorraine Pereverziev, a lawyer and mobile notary in Santa Barbara, fears people could be pressured into signing documents like spousal agreements or wills out of video camera range.
LORRAINE PEREVERZIEV: Who's behind the camera or under the desk or close by threatening that person, saying, you will do this?
SILVERMAN: Adam Pase with the company Notarize says the notary could ask the signer to show their surroundings, but Pereverziev doesn't buy it.
PEREVERZIEV: Sure. You think they would?
SILVERMAN: The one aspect of webcam notarization she does like is the ability to save audio and video recordings. That kind of accountability is part of the reason major mortgage companies are behind it. Even though the cost is a bit higher, the idea has taken off. So far, Adam Pase with Notarize estimates his company's done more than 10,000 notarizations on every continent except Antarctica.
PASE: We did get contacted by a business who has a base on Antarctica and told us that they have to travel to Christchurch, New Zealand, to get documents notarized today. So there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for us getting that last continent.
SILVERMAN: Of course, there will still be those who prefer to stick with in-person notarizations, if only to hear that old-school stamp of approval.
(SOUNDBITE OF STAMP CLICKING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. That's all there is to it.
SILVERMAN: Lauren Silverman, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF VHS COLLECTION SONG, "LATE NIGHT - IT'S OKAY")
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