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What Is Email Evidence?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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Email evidence is any type of information that is contained within or attached to an electronic mail transmission, and is considered admissible as evidence in a court of law. At present, many countries have come to accept email transmissions as constituting reliable evidence that can be presented in both civil and criminal cases. The use of this type of evidence is limited in some jurisdictions around the world, and even prohibited in others.

Just about any portion of the email transmission may be used as email evidence. The date and time stamps at both the point of origin and the point of destination of the email may help to establish when the correspondence took place. All text included in the body of the email itself could possibly contain information that is relevant to a civil or criminal trial, including any dates, events, or people who are mentioned within that text. Even attachments to email transmissions that include text, charts, financial data, slide presentations, or any type of images may also be introduces as evidence, assuming they are relevant to the matter under consideration.

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When going through the process of email discovery, it is often necessary to confirm that the email evidence is secure. There must be no sign that any portion of the email was tampered with in an attempt to mislead law officials or court officers. For example, before a printed copy of an email would be allowed as evidence in any type of legal proceedings, there is a good chance that the court of jurisdiction would require that the email copy be certified. Authorized and trained personnel would have to confirm or deny that what is presented on the hard copy is an exact copy of the email transmission that was sent and received.

In order to manage this process of affirming the veracity of the email evidence, it is not unusual for law enforcement to seize devices where the emails are stored. This allows the officers to research the contents of any email files, including inboxes and sent mail in various types of email programs. In some cases, the email service providers may also play a role in affirming the content of an email, thus making it somewhat difficult to successfully tamper with the information included in any given transmission.

While email evidence, as well as other forms of computer evidence, were once considered somewhat suspect, modern methods that make it easier to confirm the nature of the documents has led to many courts readily accepting emails and email attachments as admissible evidence. In some instances, this type of evidence has made it possible to solve criminal cases in much less time, and allow the judicial system to handle cases in a more efficient manner. As the number of people who rely on electronic communications to conduct commercial and private business continues to increase, more court systems are likely to develop and implement programs that make it possible to assess email evidence for inclusion in court cases.

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