Web Content Authentication

The 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

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.

Affidavits

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. 

Looks Matter.

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?
Page Vault is designed to help legal professionals capture and print webpages quickly and easily, while maintaining a digital chain of custody. Even the longest social media feeds are captured in seconds with one click, and are presented in easy-to-read PDF files with a cover page that includes all relevant metadata.

Best of all, Page Vault maintains the integrity of the digital chain of custody, and if necessary, Page Vault also provides affidavits describing how its unique patent-pending architecture produces accurate results.
Chad Main,

Founder, Percipient Co., Chicago, IL