Putting a Price Tag on Email Authenticity

The legalities surrounding Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook ownership rights are getting more complicated all thanks to questionable emails and contracts. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Paul Ceglia, who claimed last year that he is entitled to a piece of the Facebook pie, filed an amended complaint recently, saying that he has emails that support his argument against Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO.

Ceglia claims that a contract exists between himself and Zuckerberg that grants him 50 percent of the company’s equity, and that there are emails that support this alleged agreement. While none of these documents have been presented in court, Ceglia’s lawyer brought in an outside expert to examine the computer used to create the alleged documents and verified when they originated. According to the lawyer, the documents are real and the argument is solid.

Facebook, of course, is challenging the authenticity of the emails, challenging that Ceglia fabricated them. The New York Times’ Bits Blog has said that the “authenticity of the emails could not be independently verified,” and according to ABA Journal, Facebook’s attorney, Orin Snyder from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, “called this new claim of supporting emails as ‘ridiculous’ as the original complaint filed in state court in New York, adding, in an email to Bloomberg, ‘This is a fraudulent lawsuit brought by a convicted felon, and we look forward to defending it in court.’”

Now, I’m not claiming to know the truth behind this case, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter to me who the shareholders of the company are. But for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that the documents really do exist, in some shape or form.

What interests us in the matter is the authenticity of the emails.

You or I could easily forge an email, or type up a contract – the problem is, without data integrity controls, no one would ever know when they were created, what was contained in the original version, who created them, etc. And that’s where Ceglia might run into problems should he present the data to the court. Unless he had executed intellectual property protection best practices beforehand, the validity of the documents is basically based upon his own word, which will make it very difficult to get them admissible into evidence.

Alarmingly, I even saw an article by FoxNews’ Jeremy Kaplan where security experts talked about how at this point in the process, confirming the authenticity of the emails “technologically presents a near impossible challenge.”

Had Zuckerberg or Ceglia thought to use a data integrity protection solution along with critical business emails like these years ago, however, we wouldn’t even be in this mess. A data integrity protection solution, such as Surety’s AbsoluteProof, would have saved countless hours and dollars in this situation. With a solution like AbsoluteProof, it would have been easy to show the court the “seal” associated with the email, proving the authenticity of the document’s content, as well as the date and time in which it was created. Legal fees, court hours, reputations, etc., would have been saved had data integrity protection controls been put into place ahead of time.

While it might be too late for Zuckerberg or Ceglia, their situation offers the rest of us an important reminder. Proper records management is more important now than ever. If you have a document or electronic file of any type that you’d earmark as “critical” – whether it be an email, a contract, or files to support your intellectual property – why not protect them with the strongest data integrity protection solutions on the market? It can save you time and money down the road, and put you on the winning legal team should you or your records or files ever be challenged.

- Bob Flinton
VP of Marketing and Product Management
Surety, LLC

Tags: , , | Posted in: Data Integrity, Email & IM Security, Legal Cases

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