Notaries and Privacy
The primary job of a California notary public is straightforward: To certify the identity of a person signing a document.
To meet that responsibility, a notary asks you to present a government-issued paper identification.
State law says the notary must record certain information from your identification in a journal. This includes the type of ID, the agency issuing the document, the identifying number and the date of its issue or expiration.
California law does not require a notary public to record your address, telephone number or any other personal information. But most notaries ask for it anyway in a vain effort to demonstrate a reasonable care was made to properly identify you.
In practice, filling a notarial journal with that kind of personal information offers little or no protection. People who move residences often fail to change the address on their driver's license until it must be renewed. And they can easily lie about their current address and telephone number.
What if the notary’s journal is lost, stolen or simply left in the open for anyone to browse through? Adding addresses and phone numbers into the mix of legally required information only increases the potential for identity theft or worse.
So, the notary gets no help from the extra data and the downside is all yours.
It’s not rude to ask a notary to omit your address and telephone number from their journal. Unfortunately, many will likely insist on including the information or find it “inconvenient” to complete the notarization.
But a reasonable – and informed – notary public should go along with your request as a simple matter of concern for your privacy and protection.
A Note About Your ID
California approves a dozen different ways to identify people seeking a notarization. However, driver’s licenses, state ID cards and passports are the most commonly used.
The identification must be current or, if expired, issued within the past five years — which eliminates an expired driver’s license or passport as acceptable ID.
Older people, particularly those with health problems, often allow their driver’s licenses and passports to lapse without obtaining a senior citizen ID card. Yet, they are often the ones signing important life documents such as powers of attorney and health care directives.
Therefore, everyone, especially older people, should make sure they always have a form of government-issued ID deemed acceptable for a notarization.
Your Thumbprint Is Your Friend
As I’ve noted, notaries who insist on including your address and telephone number in their journals get no benefit from collecting such personal data and expose you to identity theft and invasion of privacy.
But it’s a different story for insisting on taking your thumbprint.
California law requires a notary take a copy of your thumbprint if you are signing deeds affecting real property or a power of attorney.
In practice, most notaries ask for a thumbprint for all notarizations.
I don’t always ask for one but when I do it is because a thumbprint trumps any kind of paper ID and I want to protect myself. And anyone with a California driver license already has one on file with the DMV so inking another is no invasion of privacy.
As for identity theft, few people use a fingerprint as an access code and, except for movie spies, almost no one could make a copy of your finger from an ink blot in a notary journal.
You must sign the document in the presence of the notary. All notarizations require a meeting with a commissioned notary. However, signing the document in front of the notary is mandatory only when a sworn statement attesting to the document’s accuracy is requested.
For the most common notarization – an acknowledgement – you need only identify yourself appropriately and answer “Yes” when the notary asks if you signed the document.
A notary must take your thumbprint. The law insists on the capture of a thumbprint only when notarizing signatures on deeds involving real estate and on powers of attorney. However, most notaries ask for one to ensure appropriate identification of the signer should questions arise.
Notaries are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies. Being a notary does not automatically confer this authority.
Notaries can certify documents. As a notary certificate states at the very top, notaries only certify the identities of people signing documents. The only exceptions are copies of powers of attorney and pages from a notary’s own journal.