New York Times: A Tool to Verify Digital Records, Even as Technology Shifts

The above titled January 27, 2009 article by John Markoff, published in the New York Times is relevant because it discusses digitization, preservation and authentication of records (and by extension information) in terms of continuously preserving these qualities in an authentic state as the underlying technology constantly changes or “shifts” over time, thus taking into account and emphasizing the importance of both the initial authentication of information in accordance with accepted polices and practices and the urgency of maintaining that authenticity over time. In terms of this discussion the question for law librarians and others throughout the legal profession working with digital legal information is how to best provide assurance that primary and other legal information officially authenticated at a given time can be safely perceived as remaining reliably authentic over a much longer period of time in the midst of these constant shifts? Since John Markoff’s article may help us at least clarify these issues I wanted to share it with you.

David Badertscher
Here are some excerpts:

“On Tuesday a group of researchers at the University of Washington are releasing the initial component of a public system to provide authentication for an archive of video interviews with the prosecutors and other members of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Rwandan genocide. The group will also release the first portion of the Rwandan archive.

This system is intended to be available for future use in digitally preserving and authenticating first-hand accounts of war crimes, atrocities and genocide.

Such tools are of vital importance because it has become possible to alter digital text, video and audio in ways that are virtually undetectable to the unaided human eye and ear.

The researchers said history was filled with incidents of doctoring, deleting or denying written records. Now, they say, the authenticity of digital documents like videos, transcripts of personal accounts and court records can be indisputably proved for the first time.”[Highlights entered by me–not the author DGB]

“Both because of the rapid pace of innovation and the tendency of computers to wear out in months or years, the likelihood that digital files will be readable over long periods of time is far less certain even than the survival of paper documents. Computer processors are quickly replaced by incompatible models, software programs are developed with new data formats, and digital storage media, whether digital tape, magnetic disk or solid state memory chips, are all too ephemeral.

Several technologists are already grappling with the evanescent nature of digital records.”

[Much of the remaining article discusses the nature and implications of “grappling with the evanescent nature of digital records”]

To see the entire article, go to:

Those interested in more detailed information regarding issues related to the authentication of online legal resources will want to see the Amieican Association of Law Libraries report: State-By-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources at . The American Association of Law Libraries is continuing its efforts to facilitate acceptable atthentication of online legal resources largely through its Electronic Legal Information Access and Citation (ELIACC). Although I am currently a member of this Committee, all opinions expressed above are strictly my own and should not be attributed to either AALL or ELIACC.

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