This essay addresses the use of digital signature technology and the certification authority, and poses the fundamental question of whether the traditional notary public should really serve as the model for the new position of certification authority. This paper begins with an historical review of the concern about document security and the measures taken to deal with those concerns. Second, the paper includes a very brief overview of the technological aspects of the digital signature and its value in the global marketplace. Next, this essay examines the similarities between the traditional notary and the certification authority, including the functions and responsibilities of each. We will also review the substantial differences between the two and the potential problems that may be caused in part by assuming the notary public and certification authority have an analogous relationship. Then, the essay suggests that lawmakers more carefully guard the office of certification authority to ensure it is held as a position of respect to help assure cybernotarized documents will be accepted both domestically and internationally. This essay concludes that certification authorities should hold a distinct, vital, and respected position, with a heightened duty of care owed to subscribers to adequately ensure the continued growth of secure electronic commerce.
John C. Anderson & Michael L. Closen, Document Authentication in Electronic Commerce: The Misleading Notary Public Analog for the Digital Signature Certification Authority, 17 J. Marshall J. Computer & Info. L. 833 (1999)