By Jarrod Etheridge
A new House Bill, if passed, would allow for Online Notary Public services
If you have ever been involved in a lawsuit, filed for divorce, bought or sold a house, etc., you have probably had a few interactions with a Florida Notary. A Notary Public is an official appointed by the Governor of Florida, to serve the public as an impartial witness to the signing of important documents, as requiring the signor to appear in front of the Notary helps deter fraud. However, in 2019, the requirement of physically appearing before a Notary may become a thing of the past. House Bill 409, if passed, would allow for online Notarization of your important documents:
“An online notary public physically located in this state may perform an online notarization that meets the requirements of this part regardless of whether the principal or any witnesses are physically located in this state at the time of the online notarization.” See House Bill 409, Page 34, Lines 826-830. “An online notarial act performed in accordance with this chapter is deemed to have been performed within this state and is governed by the applicable laws of this state.” See House Bill 409, Page 34, Lines 835-838.
The Bill, proposed by Rep. Daniel Perez, will be considered in the next Judicial Committee, which is the final step before a House Vote. Since proposing the Bill, there have been outbursts of mixed feelings with many people applauding the use of modern technology in the Notary field, and others arguing that Fraud is already on the rise, and this Bill will make it that much easier to commit Fraud.
Benefits of an Online Notary Public
There are many benefits to this system, such as allowing people who are sick or bedridden to have important estate planning documents notarized without having to leave the house, or without having to have a mobile notary come into the home. The Bill would also allow someone on vacation to execute necessary documents without having to wait for days or weeks until they return home.
House Bill 409 lays out specific criteria, including on-camera identification of the signor, that an online Notary will have to comply with before they are allowed to issue their seal:
“In performing an online notarization, an online notary public shall confirm the identity of a principal and any witness appearing online, at the time that the signature is taken, by using audio-video communication technology and processes that meet the requirements of this part and of any rules adopted hereunder and record the two-way audio-video conference session between the notary public and the principal and any witnesses. A principal may not act in the capacity of a witness for his or her own signature in an online notarization.” See House Bill 409, Page 34, Lines 839-847.
Advances in Technology Change the Way A Notary Public Can Operate
Historically a Notary was required to physically, in person, view a form of identification of the person signing such as a driver’s license or other governmental identification. The Notary Public either makes a copy of the license or records the identifying numbers in their Notary books in case the Notarized document is ever involved in litigation. Due to the importance of the document(s) being Notarized, litigation may arise many years later, so preservation of the Notary record is vital. With modern technology allowing cloud storage, these recorded identifying conference sessions could be stored forever electronically. This would allow people to later judge whether the documents provided were, in fact, sufficient because the viewable record would be exactly the same as it was at the time the notary witnessed the signing. However, if you continue scrolling the Bill, paragraph (9) raises some concerns:
(9) Any failure to comply with the online notarization procedures set forth in this section does not impair the validity of the notarial act or the electronic record that was notarized, but may be introduced as evidence to establish violations of this chapter or as an indication of possible fraud, forgery, impersonation, duress, incapacity, undue influence, minority, illegality, unconscionability, or for other evidentiary purposes. See House Bill 409, Page 36, line 888.
This section states that if an online Notary fails to record the Identification conference (or any of the others procedures not discussed in this article), the Notarization is not per se invalid. The Notarization would first have to be discovered, challenged, and then successfully argued and proven to be forged, fraudulent, or otherwise invalid. This would allow for a situation where someone has a friend perform an online Notary without any verifying documents and without recording the conference. The Notarization is not invalid until it is ruled as such; however, the Notary did not record or preserve any of the documents they relied upon. How exactly is a person supposed to prove whether a Notarization is fraudulent if there is not any record? This section could potentially create many nightmares in areas such as Wills and Trusts where the signor may not even be alive, and the Notary did not preserve the record. Perhaps this should be reversed, in that the online notarization should be considered per se invalid unless there exists proper documentation or record to support the identity of the signor.
With the help of technology such as video conferencing, many areas of society are moving into electronic means. With the importance of Notarization, and how heavily our society leans on the verification of a signature, perhaps proposed House Bill 409 is a little less restrictive than it should be as the first round of Electronic Notarization in Florida. Whichever way the Florida legislature decides, it will be an interesting story to follow.