Web Content AuthenticationThe facts about authenticating your online evidence.
Web Content Authentication Begins with Rule 901
Let’s start at the very beginning. Evidence standards are set by the Federal Rules of Evidence 901. Web evidence, such as social media, come under examination when they don’t meet these standards. If we use Rule 901 as a guide, social media and web evidence may be authenticated in these non-exclusive ways:
- Witness testimony. The creator of the post will be asked if they posted the post.
- Internet history. The computer may be examined for relevant internet history.
- Third-party hosting. If information was hosted by a third-party, they may need to give testimony.
- Identifying information. The style of the post may be similar enough to previous posts to implicate the author.
To read a more in-depth analysis of Rule 901, please refer to The Web Authentication Dance – A Two-Step.
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Digital Chain of Custody
The evidence needs to establish that the page depicted was on the web at the stated time or URL. Attorneys should plan to establish a digital chain of custody showing no editing of the web entry occurred.
Metadata is “data about data.” This includes information such as the URL, or web address, and the date and time of capture. Metadata is often neglected, overlooked, or contains errors if done manually.
Attorneys must be able to prove that what is presented in court actually was not altered and appeared at the time and at the URL specified. Affidavits are used in such circumstances to back up the integrity of the evidence.
One aspect of authentication that is often overlooked is appearance: does the printout look as the webpage or social media appeared in the browser at the time of the capture? Below are a few questions you should ask yourself about your web evidence printouts:
- Is the printout recognizable as the information online?
- Is everything in proportion similar to how it appeared in the browser?
- Are all of the images loaded?
- Are the ads and surrounding content, like navigation and sidebars, there?
- Does the printout include overlap between pages to prove that information was not skipped over?