Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Defensible chain-of-custody

Reading a brochure for a company named DocuLegal, I saw this phrase -- defensible chain-of-custody. In cultural heritage organizations, we want to know an item's provenance. If we don't know its history, we at least want to know that it is authentic. However, law firms need to know not only that a document' is authentic, they need to know its chain-of-custody (who had it and when). When you get into a court of law, you want to know that the documents you are presenting are what they appear to be and that you know where they have been (with the goal of demonstrating that they have not been altered).

Now think of our digitization processes. For companies that are digitizing legal documents or documents being used in litigation, keeping information on the chain-of-custody is important. Documents may need to be closely tracked and secured. The chain-of-custody as well as how they have been handled, what has been done with them, etc. needs to be clear. While we may not need that level of tracking, is there something we can learn from those who digitize legal documents? With our most precious materials, should we document the chain-of-custody in case questions or problems do arise? Should we get into the habit of doing this on all of the materials we digitize? (I'm sure some projects do this, but others may be more cavalier.)

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KevinGlick said...

To a certain degree one's ability to assess the authenticity of a preserved digital object can be accomplished by confirming the existence of an unbroken chain of custody from the time the object is creation to the time when it is accessed by the user. Periods when the digital objects were not subject to some form of protective measures by the creator, or a successor repository with a vested interest in maintaining the accuracy and completeness of the digital objects, might cast significant doubt on their authenticity. This is particularly important for archives, but also most other cultural heritage organizations.

Ben Wright said...

Jill: A new way to promote a good digital chain of custody is to authenticate records with a voice signature. A voice signature can help to show who collected the evidence, when it was collected, and that it has not changed since collection. --Ben http://hack-igations.blogspot.com/2008/04/text-message-investigations.html