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Authenticating email in a court of law

Venkat has a discussion of authentication needed to present emails to a judge when asking for a summary judgment.

11 comments

  1. teresa richardson says

    I need to prove that a email can not be used in court on the word of a person,what are the laws on this and were would you find them how do you prove a email is fake. the judge thats this email as fact but the sever has not any record of this email ,this woman could go to jail for 10 years all on a email that is not track able their must be laws some were of what you have to have to bring this into court please help and soon what are the laws of authenticating email in court and cases thankyou

  2. Kona Woods says

    Emails cannot be taken as evidence in court of law. Emails are considered here say evidence in some jurisdictions but overall emails cannot be taken as evidence.
    (1) One can create Emails using Microsoft Word, Publisher, etc., applications not send through internet. One can copy and paste the email headers/body including x-Originating IP Addresses, and other Meta Data without using/sending through email servers in internet.
    (2) Emails can be automatically created using someone’s personal information such as Name, Address, Telephone Number, and Signature in the body. There are online automated spam bots that does trace internet activates of billions of people and generate automatic auto mailer spam with real life information.
    (3) Example, when one send an email using an email service such as yahoo mail, aol mail, Gmail, Hotmail, etc…..first that email captures the originating PC IP address. Then the email go through several email servers that captures their IP addresses. This is called the email is hopping through several email servers in different geographical locations that has multiple email server IP’s. Finally email goes to the recipient with the last email hopped server information which does not really show the first originating email. In other words, emails has a tendency to change its data once it’s originated from one place until it goes to the final recipient.
    (4) One who really wants to put someone in trouble can use online fake email sites to spoof your name and cyber harass/stalk that will get you into trouble because your name was on the email name.
    (5) There are online email re-mailers that generate fake content based on online behavioral activities. Therefore, these emails cannot be taken as authentic.

  3. steve says

    This is a very, very old post you’re replying to.

    However, it’s perfectly possible to use emails as evidence in court, and not unusual. I’ve worked as an expert witness authenticating (and challenging authentication) of emails in several cases.

    It’s exceedingly difficult for anyone other than an expert to forge an email in a way that will stand up to forensic analysis, and there are very few experts out there. That’s before you look at server logs and forensic images of the sender and recipients drives.

  4. Alec Tetrault says

    How do you prove or authenticate if the sender and the recipient don’t have their original PC’s? What if the emails were originated from a public Wi-Fi-hot spot network? There is no authentication of any emails at all. Problem we encounter often is that lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and the general public do not have a good knowledge on how the electronic evidence works. They just take whatever the so called “experts” say and judge others. Bottom line is Emails cannot be taken as evidence.

  5. steve says

    I’m going to point out that Alec and Kona are both commenting on a six year old blog post that they found from a Google search. They’re commenting from identical web browsers running on the same ASUS OEM version of Windows from the same IP address.

    Alec/Kona – this may be the link you’re looking for: https://web.archive.org/web/20080619195119/http://spamnotes.com/2008/06/16/authenticating-emails-at-summary-judgment.aspx

  6. Dave says

    I am a practicing attorney from CA, NV and AZ. I agree with Kona’s arguments. I represented a client few years ago who was sued for sending harassing emails. Argument that me and my team of lawyers brought was very simple. That was to prove that it was my client who generated those harassing emails. Prosecutor brought a computer forensic analysts from both law enforcement cybercrime unit and an expert from private sector. Prosecution could not prove that it was my client who sent those emails. There were no documentary evidence, no video surveillance, no forensic analysis on any hard drives (Senders machines/Receiver’s machine), no email server authentication, no key stroke analysis, no finger prints, etc. Another argument we brought was that anyone from anywhere in the world can create an email address with my clients name and send harassing emails to some targeted recipient’s. Eg. A person in Nice, France goes to a street corner where he/she can get Wi-Fi signal, create an email address with my client’s name John Doe JohnDoe@gmail.com and send several harassing emails to few people in the mayor’s office where my client is also working. Mayor’s office investigates, finds out that the email has the name of a mayor’s office worker, and he gets fired from his job and charged with harassment. There were no forensic evidence on the machine in Nice, France. General public thinks anything written is legal and can be used in court of law, but fact is Emails do not fall for that category. Emails cannot be taken as evidence in US court of law. There is always a possibility that Judges, prosecutors and lawyers who will be bought to say whatever they want in order to put someone in jail, but in the eyes of law and ethics Emails cannot be taken as evidence.

  7. Dave says

    Steve,
    Alec, Kona and I are all litigation lawyers working in the same law firm. We are currently working on an email case and your blog came up in our research. We would like to consider to bring you as an expert to advise us on the email authenticity. Please provide us your contact information and hourly rate.
    Thanks much.

  8. Dave says

    I am a practicing attorney from CA, NV, and AZ. I agree with Kona’s arguments. I represented a client few years ago who was sued for sending harassing emails. Argument that me and my team of lawyers brought was very simple. That was to prove that it was my client who generated those harassing emails. Prosecutor brought a computer forensic analysts from both law enforcement cybercrime unit and an expert from private sector. Prosecution could not prove that it was my client who sent those emails. There were no documentary evidence, no video surveillance, no forensic analysis on any hard drives (Senders machines/Receiver’s machine), no email server authentication, no key stroke analysis, no finger prints, etc. Another argument we brought was that anyone from anywhere in the world can create an email address with my clients name and send harassing emails to some targeted recipient’s. Eg. A person in Nice, France goes to a street corner where he/she can get Wi-Fi signal, create an email address with my client’s name John Doe JohnDoe@gmail.com and send several harassing emails to few people in the mayor’s office where my client is also working. Mayor’s office investigates, finds out that the email has the name of a mayor’s office worker, and he gets fired from his job and charged with harassment. There were no forensic evidence on the machine in Nice, France. General public thinks anything written is legal and can be used in court of law, but fact is Emails do not fall for that category. Emails cannot be taken as evidence in US court of law. There is always a possibility that Judges, prosecutors and lawyers who will be bought to say whatever they want in order to put someone in jail, but in the eyes of law and ethics Emails cannot be taken as evidence.

  9. steve says

    You can contact me via https://wordtothewise.com/contact/

    My hourly rate varies depending on the details of the case, but is seldom bargain basement.

  10. darren cox says

    do I have to subpoena an email to us it in court or do I just ave to print them off

  11. steve says

    You’re replying to a very old post, darren. What will be usable in court depends on the details of the case, but typically a print-out won’t be enough if there’s any conflict about the legitimacy of the email. Ask your lawyer what’ll be appropriate in your case.

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