Evidentiary Authentication of Social Media Data

Although courts have called the Internet “one large catalyst for rumor, innuendo, and misinformation,” nevertheless, it provides large amounts of evidence that may be relevant to litigation matters. Increasingly, courts are facing presentation of, and challenges to, data preserved from various websites. According to a survey conducted by the X1ediscovery blog, there are over 320 published cases involving social media/web data in the first half of 2012.

Evidentiary authentication of web-based data, whether it’s Internet site data available through browsers, or social media data derived from APIs or user credentials, presents challenges. Given the growing importance of social media posts and data, businesses should be prepared to offer foundational evidence to authenticate any posts that are vital to a case.

Authentication of social media and web data is a relatively novel issue for many courts. Courts have been extremely strict in applying foundation requirements due to the ease of creating a profile or posting while masquerading as someone else. Therefore it is important to go beyond the surface of a social media profile or a post to provide the foundation necessary to authenticate what he evidence for use in court.

Regardless of the type of data, it must be authenticated in all cases. The authentication standard is found in Federal Rule of Evidence 901(a), “The requirement of authentication … is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.” United States v. Simpson, 152 F.3d 1241, 1249 (10th Cir. 1998).

The foundational requirement of authentication is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims. See US v. Tank, 200 F. 3d 627, 630 (9th Circuit 2000) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 901(a)). This burden is met when “sufficient proof has been introduced so that a reasonable juror could find in favor of authenticity.” This burden was met where the producer of chat room web logs explained how he created the logs with his computer and stated that the printouts appeared to be accurate representations. Additionally, the government established the connection between the defendant and the chat room log printouts based on IP addresses.

See also, Perfect 10, Inc. v. Cybernet Ventures, Inc. (C.D.Cal.2002) 213 F.Supp.2d 1146, 1154, and Lorraine v. Markel American Insurance Company, 241 F.R.D. 534, 546 (D.Md. May 4, 2007) (citing Perfect 10, and referencing additional elements of “circumstantial indicia” for authentication of electronic evidence).

Clearly, there is an emerging trend in the use of social media and web data as evidence. As the use of this type of evidence increases, so too will the consistency and predictability of the foundational matters required by courts. Thus, businesses are well advised to include web collection and social media support in the investigation process so they are prepared to offer the necessary foundational evidence to authenticate any social media posts that may be vital to a case.

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