Establishing Authenticity Of ESI Under FRE 901 And 902

Can FRE 901 and FR2 902 help to establish authenticity for ESI? Page Vault explains how.

Last Updated March 2024

The widespread use of technology has introduced new challenges and opportunities for the authentication of evidence, especially concerning electronically stored information (ESI). Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) 901 and 902 are the guidelines for establishing the authenticity of ESI in legal proceedings. Learn about the intricacies of FRE 901 and FRE 902, along with their application in validating the credibility of ESI. 

What Is Rule 901 for Authenticity?

FRE 901 has served as the foundation to establish the authenticity of evidence in the federal courts. According to the American Bar Association, a proponent of evidence needs to bring sufficient evidence to support their claims that the item is valid. In other words, the legal team must ensure the evidence is authentic. With electronically stored information, that could be a challenge. However, many types of electronic records carry with them data that can help to prove an item’s validity. Examples include:

  • Digital signatures: Electronic codes can verify the authenticity of the document.
  • Metadata: Information regarding the ESI's creation, such as the time and date of file creation, is embedded in some electronic evidence. 
  • Electronic markers: File names, document sizes, and timestamps can verify the digital information. 

All of this information is used to establish the integrity, source, and chain of custody of electronically stored information. While the process of authenticating this evidence can be time-consuming and complicated, FRE 901 helps to ensure that any ESI brought to court is reliable and accurate. 

Is FRE 902 Evidence Self-Authenticating?

Federal Rules of Evidence rule 902 relieves the burden of authentication for some types of evidence by introducing the concept of self-authenticating evidence. While FRE 902 does not specifically mention electronically stored information, the principles can apply to digitally generated evidence, such as digital business records created and maintained within a single office or headquarters may be considered self-authenticating under FRE 902. These records carry a presumption of authenticity. As a result, that can spare legal professionals from providing additional extrinsic evidence to prove their credibility.

FRE 902 can be an advantage in cases where ESI is involved. The self-authentication provisions help to streamline the litigation process. In turn, that makes it easier for parties to present relevant evidence in their case. However, remember that the self-authentication provisions of FRE 902 are not absolute. The opposing party can still challenge the validity of self-authenticating evidence. In those situations, the court will have to decide whether the evidence is authentic based on the specific facts of the proceedings.

How Do You Authenticate Digital Crime Scene Evidence?

Before it can be used in court, digital evidence needs to be verified. A typical step in this procedure is establishing the evidence's chain of custody. The evidence's journey from the crime scene to the lab to the court is tracked in the chain of control. For physical evidence, established procedures have long helped to document who saw the evidence, when each person involved in the chain of custody saw or took possession of the evidence, and if any updates were made along the way. Since digital evidence can be easily altered or deleted, this custody chain is essential to guarantee that the electronically stored information has not been subjected to tampering.

Digital forensic experts can assist in the authentication of crime scene ESI by confirming the data's accuracy and offering technical justifications to the court. They may employ a range of instruments and techniques, such as:


Hashing transforms data into a unique string of characters, providing an unalterable digital fingerprint. This digital fingerprint can verify data integrity by comparing the original data's hash value with another value after it has been copied, transmitted, or altered.


Checksums are a reliable method to verify the integrity of data transmitted over a network. This method is less secure than hashes, but still useful in many cases.

File Signatures

File signatures are distinctive identifiers embedded in files. They serve as a highly reliable means of verifying the authenticity of files.

Time Stamps

Time stamps can be used to verify the date and time of creation for some types of digital records, such as photos, text documents, and social media posts. If there have been any changes to a record, these will also typically be reflected in the record’s history.

Access Control Lists and Audit Logs

By utilizing access control lists (ACLs), professionals can accurately trace who has accessed a file or folder and at what time. Additionally, implementing audit logs can make it easier to track any changes made to the data.

Using these tools and methods, digital forensic specialists can help ensure that electronically stored information is reliable and can be used in court. If you want to learn more about authenticating evidence, please contact Page Vault.

What Is the Best Way To Authenticate a Piece of Real Evidence?

Physical evidence from a crime scene should be carefully examined for authenticity. An unbroken chain of custody must be proven with each transfer of evidence. The evidence is kept intact and unaltered according to this record. The authenticity can be strengthened by the corroborating testimony of witnesses who were present at the crime scene. A legal team can be certain of the validity of the tangible evidence presented in a case if these practices are followed. Additional advice for verifying evidence includes:

  • Store the evidence in a secure location.
  • Document all handling of the evidence.
  • Be prepared to explain the chain of custody of the evidence.
  • Be ready to answer questions about the authenticity and reliability of the evidence.

As always, the burden of proof lies on the party presenting the evidence. With that, the party must provide ample proof to convince the court that the evidence is authentic and trustworthy.

Learn more about Page Vault

Proving electronically stored information's authenticity is more important than ever as it becomes a mainstay in legal proceedings. FRE 901 and FRE 902 empower legal professionals to present ESI confidently in the courtroom. Legal teams can navigate the complexities of digital authenticity by adhering to a few best practices, using expert testimony, and embracing digital forensics.  When it comes to proving the authenticity of web content in court, Page Vault employs several techniques and practices to establish the credibility and admissibility of captured ESI. This includes metadata collection, timestamps, chain of custody preservation, and supporting affidavits.