May 19

Can a Web page be submitted as evidence?

After a first decision (High Court n. 2912/2004) that denied that a Web page could be produced as documentary evidence in a civil procedure, now Italian doctrine and case law are trying to fix objective criteria to be used to assess whether and when might be considered acceptable documentary evidence.

The first criteria identified is that the web page must be produced as a certified copy extracted from the Internet original. This poses a practical problem, and also a problem of co-ordination with the Digital administration act Rules (Law Decree n. 82/2005) which provide that the use of informatic document as documentary evidence has to be evaluated taking in consideration the objective characteristic of QUALITY, SAFETY and UNMODIFIEDITY .

It is difficult to ascertain these characteristics as a web page is completely different from a paper document and contains several multimedia and hypertestual documents that are not easy to duplicate and the requirement would appear to a web page duplicate (with a unique content and unrepeatable) rather than a web page copy (that is a document representing exactly a document’s content, i.e. a photocopy).

So the question is to establish which elements must be considered to establish if to produce a web pages’ as evidence is the same as producing the copy of a document.

A useful tool is given by digital signature, as the public notary, who has to certify a web page, must carry necessarily use a digital support (cd or dvd) and, for this reason, he has to be able to make his certification in a digital format.

Others element required to be able to speak of a web page copy will be:

  • the judge must be able to “see” the web page: to do this he has to use the pc key “saved as a full web page”
  • to save the multimedia contents of a web page (video, photos, etc.) that cannot be saved on local document, for this a screenshot programme can be used to have a sort of web page’s photo or, better, a screen recording programme could be utilised , downloading from Internet
  • the public notary has to specify in his certification every digital instruments utilized for copying the web page (the software, browser, etc.)
  • The public notary will have to specify in the certification the real IP address

Finally the public notary will have to save all the files in a folder, compress the content (with a zip or tar programme) and sign everything with the digital signature to create a link between the document’s content and the certification.

We understand that this type of problem seems to be more of a technical aspects than of juridical nature, however, considering the fact that in the modern era, more or less every economical transaction carried out in the Internet space, the legal world must have an understanding of this “unreal” and how it can be used within the legal system.