Notarizing Privately Over The Net

AS MORE COMMERCE IS CONducted over the vast Internet, the need is growing for digital versions of the business services available in the world of paper-based letters and contracts. One of the newest is the Digital Notary System, offered by Surety Technologies Inc. in Chatham, N.J., for validating the contents of electronic documents.

The process is automatic and takes only seconds. First, someone who wants to notarize a contract, say, runs it through Surety's notary software in a desktop computer. This calculates a unique, numerical "fingerprint." The computer then sends this over the net to Surety's computer, which performs some more calculations and returns a time-stamped electronic notary certificate. Later, when someone wants to confirm that a copy of the contract is the real thing, he runs it through the same software to see whether its fingerprint matches the one in the certificate. Since Surety doesn't have to see the contract itself, the process is highly secure.

Typical customers, Surety officials predict, will include stock brokerages that must prove when they complete certain transactions and scientists who, for patent purposes, must notarize their discoveries. Price: $49 for a personal copy of the software, which runs with Microsoft Windows, and an account with Surety good for 50 notarizations.

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