Can Timestamp be Truly Trusted

Author:Chao Feng,Shuai Zhang


As the Internet economy is thriving, the way people see, consider and handle things is changing to be “Internet-based.” More and more e-signatures, e-contracts, e-certificates and e-evidence appear in judicial cases. The traditional way of e-evidence preservation used to be notification, which is costly. People have a pressing demand for the less costly preservation of e-evidence, and the trusted timestamp service comes just in time. Trusted timestamp refers to a legally effective electronic certification that is issued by an authorized and reliable third party timestamp service center to prove the time of formation of e-files and that the contents of the same files are not modified or falsified.

 Will all e-evidence with a timestamp be accepted by the People’s Court?

 No. In light of the precedents relevant to trusted timestamp, a trusted timestamp alone cannot prove the truthfulness of the evidence, because the timestamp in itself simply proves that some data (data message or e-information) has never been manipulated since certain time point, that is, the data is “complete”, “consistent” or “free of manipulation”. Therefore, in the process of judicial litigation, it is a must procedure to testify the evidence with timestamp, and the People’s Court will not naturally hold that some evidence is complete because it has a timestamp. It is actually not the case. Evidence with a timestamp must meet four conditions, namely cleanness of the Internet environment, truthfulness of the evidence contents, evidence completeness and unmodified nature of the evidence in order to be accepted by the People’s Court following the principle of high possibility in the absence of counter-evidence.

Condition 1: Equipment and network environment cleanness

Before consolidating e-evidence, it is necessary to conduct a cleanness check of the equipment and the Internet environment, and the process and result of the cleanness examination must be preserved in the form of evidence to prove that the Internet environment and the equipment environment when evidence is consolidated are clean, and there is no possibility of the web pages involved being manipulated. 

Condition 2: Truthfulness of evidence contents

 In the process of consolidating the electronic evidence, it is necessary to make sure that the electronic evidence being consolidated is true. Many methods can be adopted to prove same, such as inputting tracert + the target network domain in the command window to make sure the route to the network server of the target web pages to guarantee the truthfulness of the website.

Condition 3: Sufficiency of evidence contents

 The electronic evidence needs to convincingly prove the existence of the fact of infringement and explicitly reflect the infringer’s information, the act of tort or the facts of infringement. With the facts of infringement alone, or having the infringer’s information only but failing to establish exclusive correlation between the fact of infringement and the infringer, the electronic evidence will not be accepted by the People’s Court.

 Condition 4: Completeness and non-revision nature of evidence contents

 Evidence completeness and its nature of being free of manipulation can be realized by verifying the timestamp files. When verifying the timestamp, the files to be verified are matched with the e-certificate in the tsa format that is developed at the application for the timestamp. If the files have been complete and not revised since the application of timestamp, they may pass the timestamp certification, or they fail. The timestamp website has the following special hint, “Contents of files which have applied for the timestamp certificate must not be revised any more after the time of application in order to keep their originality. Any change in their contents (e.g., being opened and then saved) will make them unable to pass the timestamp verification. In case you need to check or revise the files, please back them up and check or revise the duplicate files. Therefore, the completeness and the non-revision nature of the evidence with a trusted timestamp may be verified at court by visiting the website.

Thus it can be seen that the evidence with “timestamp” is accepted by the People’s Court not simply because it has the “timestamp” of a third authorized agency, but because of the principle of high possibility of evidence.

The legal reference is Article 73 of Several Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Evidence in Civil Procedures, “Article 73 Where both parties concerned produce contradicting evidence to prove a same fact but neither has enough evidence to rebut the evidence of the other party, the People’s Court shall determine which evidence is obviously more convincing than the other evidence by taking the case into consideration, and shall affirm the evidence that are more convincing.” In judicial litigation, the people’s court needs to fully examine the environment cleanness of the timestamp, truthfulness, sufficiency and completeness and the non-revision nature of evidence contents in order to determine whether the timestamp can be “trusted” or not. 



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