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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World Social Media Legal News Roundup

Law professor says social media can pose legal problems in Courtroom
Winnipeg Free Press
SASKATOON – The dean of law at the University of Saskatchewan says using social media can have negative consequences in the Courtroom – Business – Winnipeg Free Press.

Eight Ways Your Employee Social-Media Policy May Violate Federal law
AdAge.com (blog)
All employees have certain rights under federal law that social-media policies can’t restrict.

New Law to Force Identification of Trolls Set to be Unveiled
Technorati
Home / Social Media / Articles / New Law to Force Identification of Troll. … is behind the attacks on them online without having to resort to expensive legal action.

A blue wave of change Cleveland County law enforcers join move toward social media alerts
Norman Transcript
Lauri Stevens, a social media strategist at LAwS Communications, a Boston-area company, said law enforcement agencies nationwide are beginning to embrace social media.

Social media helped, hurt in hunt for suspect in triple shooting
Washington Post
Social media at times was a help, other times a hindrance in the search and eventual arrest of a suspect in the triple fatal shooting at an Alabama apartment complex.

Use social media, but use it responsibly, UAE conference hears
gulfnews.com
He said, “We do not monitor social media networks. People have the freedom to speak within the legal framework. There is no law specifically for twitter, but …

Police: Street gangs embrace social media, too
Kansas.com
Beard gave a presentation on gangs, the Internet and social media at last week’s Midwest Law Enforcement Conference on Gangs and Drugs, held in Wichita.

And…don’t forget to check out my presentation on the Law & Social Data panel at #TechWeek Chicago 2012.

The past few years have witnessed an explosion of legal and regulatory activity involving social and other new media. This session will examine several key areas, including copyright, trademark and related intellectual property concerns; defamation, obscenity and related liability; false advertising and marketing restrictions; gaming; data privacy issues presented by social media; and impacts of social media on employees and the workplace. Attendees will learn how to identify legal risks and issues before they become full-scale emergencies and how to develop appropriate policies and guidelines covering social media activity.

If you can’t make it, check out the Slideshare presentation here.