• must follow and what they must do to make electronic recording effective. For example, it says offices must comply with standards set by a state standards board and must set up a system for searching and retrieving electronic documents under a set of minimum requirements established in URPERA.

  • Third, URPERA actually establishes the board that will set statewide standards and requires it to set uniform standards that must be implemented in every recording office.

    Changing Technologies

    Addressing ever-changing technology issues required careful thought, McCabe said, because early efforts to tackle electronic transactions in law went as far as mandating specific technologies.

    "But we came to the conclusion -- and I think the feds have too, because they addressed it in E-Sign -- that we really don't want to deal with specific technology in statutes," he said. "You want to allow the entity -- whether federal, state or local government -- the ability to acquire suitable technology under appropriate standards."

    URPERA delineates a state body responsible for setting statewide standards so at least all counties in a state are the same, McCabe said, and the standards should address several key issues for real-estate documents, including authentication, storage and accessibility.

    "Authentication is not a word that has precise definition in this business, so what we are talking about is safe signatures, encryption technology and security," he said. "Security is probably a better word for what has to be dealt with here."

    There is also the question of electronic records' longevity and technology transitions, McCabe said, citing the transition in storage technologies over the last 20 years -- from 5.25-inch floppy disks to DVDs -- as one example. Not only does this raise the issue of change, he continued, it also forces agencies to confront the more serious question of determining the longevity of any storage technology that's chosen.

    "Bear in mind, real-estate records have to go back for hundreds of years, so somebody out there has to make the choices and set the standards," he continued. "You can't do that by writing it into law time and time again. If you keep going back to the legislature, you are always going to be behind."

    Even search functions require strict standards.

    "People need to be able to search these records efficiently and without error," said McCabe. "One reason to have these records on computer is that you can then search them by computer. It is faster and more efficient. So the issue of absolute accuracy is vital, not only in terms of authentication, but also for searches."

    States will need to solve other issues. If paper real-estate documents take legal effect when they are time-stamped upon delivery to a recording office, when should electronic documents, which can be electronically delivered any time of the day, take legal effect?

    "If you have folks recording paper documents at the same time you have folks recording electronically, you have to have something consistent," said McCabe.

    URPERA gets the states, one by one, onto the same page when electronically recording real-estate documents to establish consistency across the country.

    "It takes care of the last of the statute of fraud issues that were previously based on paper documents and a manual signature, and says you can accept an electronic record and signature," he said. "It provides the standard-setting function and some of the other transition rules. Now, state by state, people are going to have to look at it, and look at the relationship of the written records that exist -- some of which even predate typewriters -- to the electronic records to come."

    First State

    Arizona became the first state to pass legislation based on URPERA in April 2005.

  • Blake Harris  |  Contributing Writer