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Vanishing evidence online or “LinkRot” may put stability of precedent in legal system at risk, according to new research from the University of Ottawa

CIRA dotCA logoProject funded through CIRA’s Community Investment Program aims to help judges and lawyers ensure that information found online is stable and reliable

[news release] Recent cases of cyber-bullying and cybercrime have put the importance of evidence produced and stored with social media tools at the centre of high-profile legal debates and decisions.

“As evidence gleaned online is more commonly used, it is critical to ensure that courts have the skills and resources to evaluate and preserve information,” said Professor Karen Eltis “The stability and reliability of precedent is absolutely fundamental to our legal system and a dead link or a changing Wikipedia entry can fundamentally disrupt a case.”

Recently, at the Canadian Bar Association’s 15th Annual Administrative Law, Labour and Employment Law Conference in Ottawa, Karen Eltis, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa presented a body of research, funded through the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA)’s Community Investment Program.

Eltis emphasizes the importance of training for judges and attorneys on how to deal with the emerging influx of digital and social media evidence.

In a related talk last month, Eltis presented at a conference hosted by Georgetown Law School in Washington D.C. focusing exclusively on this problematic phenomenon known as “LinkRot” (when online information goes missing) and its implications for the justice system.

“There is so much focus on how the Internet never forgets, but when it comes to complex chains of evidence, my concern is that we are overlooking the increasingly thorny problem of unwanted deleting or erasure” said Eltis. “Paradoxically, where we need the Internet to be more permanent and its information more durable, the medium is letting us down.”

When cases require evidence from social media sites or information scraped from digital videos, the risk that these sources of information will change is particularly high.

“Understanding how technology is affecting our court system is critical to the administration of justice and Professor Eltis has taken on the important role of ensuring that judges and lawyers are informed and prepared,” said David Fowler, Director of Communications and Marketing at CIRA. “Our community investment program was designed to help support researchers as they work through these emerging areas of national concern.”

Eltis is available for interviews and further discussion of her research.

About CIRA and the Community Investment Program

Through the CIRA Community Investment Program, CIRA funds projects that demonstrate the capacity to improve the Internet for all Canadians. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) manages the .CA top-level domain, Canada’s online identifier, on behalf of all Canadians. A Member-driven organization, CIRA represents the .CA registry internationally.

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