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Bil Lewis

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Can You Prove It?

February 04, 2010

A few years back there was a case brought against Larry Ellison for

sexual harassment. I forget the details, but the "proof" of his

culpability was a set of emails purportedly exchanged between him and

the employee in question.

 

I remember wondering how an email could possibly be considered proof

of anything. Or how anything electronic could even be considered

evidence, for that matter.

 

I can fake email with the best of 'em, and nobody can prove that I

faked it. Say I'm the system admin. I can go into anybody's account,

put anything I want there. I can send messages from anybody's account,

saying anything I want to. And the recipient cannot tell if that was

Larry who sent it or me.

 

What if Larry walked into court and said "I didn't send that email."

 

You can't prove that he did.

 

What if he pulled out a piece of paper with another email on it that

said "Larry, if you don't give me a million dollars, I will drag your

name through the mud."

 

Larry can't prove that she sent it, but she can't prove that she

didn't.

 

In more general terms, can we prove ANYTHING?

 

If the police say "We impounded his personal computer and here are

these pornographic pictures that prove his guilt!"

 

He can say "Those pictures were put there after the computer was

impounded."

 

And indeed, we know of many cases where police did exactly that, be it

modern computer files or "dirty" postcards from the 19th century. One

simple little break-in, the perpetrator's leaves a couple postcards in

the leaves of a book, and when the police raid the next day, there

they are! Proof!

 

How do we prove anything?

 

-Bil

 

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