Not All Internet Evidence is Created Equally
Recently, I have touched on the issue of whether evidence taken from the Internet is reliable enough for the purpose of Family Law trials.
But as anyone knows who has ever spent time surfing the Internet – which is all of us – there are websites, and then there are websites. Just because something is on the internet, certainly doesn’t mean that it’s reliable, fully accurate, or even remotely true.
How do courts grapple with determining the reliability of website information, and giving it the proper weight for evidentiary purposes?
In a recent immigration case called El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), the applicant had objected to the fact that the Immigration Officer had apparently searched the applicant’s LinkedIn profile, and had made certain judgments about him that reflected negatively on his immigration application.
The court turned its focused attention on the issue of internet evidence reliability, citing approvingly from an earlier case:
With regard to the reliability of the Internet, I accept that in general, official web sites, which are developed and maintained by the organization itself, will provide more reliable information than unofficial web sites, which contain information about the organization but which are maintained by private persons or businesses.
In my opinion, official web sites of well-known organisations can provide reliable information that would be admissible as evidence … For example, it is evident that the official web site of the Supreme Court of Canada will provide an accurate version of the decisions of the Court.
As for unofficial web sites, I accept … that the reliability of the information obtained from an unofficial web site will depend on various factors which include careful assessment of its sources, independent corroboration, consideration as to whether it might have been modified from what was originally available and assessment of the objectivity of the person placing the information on-line. When these factors cannot be ascertained, little or no weight should be given to the information obtained from an unofficial web site.
The court added that this approach was approved in some subsequent Canadian decision, but in others the court still demanded expert testimony as to the reliability of the website information, before it would accept it as evidence for the trial or hearing.
The bottom line, is that courts know that everything you see on the internet is not true. (Although I’m confident that they would approve of the Blogs on my website).
For the full text of the decisions, see:
El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2017 FC 39 (CanLII)
ITV Technologies Inc. v. WIC Television Ltd., 2003 FC 1056 (CanLII)