In regards to contracts or other documents, authentication means to sign or to execute the document.
Authentication commonly refers to providing sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to conclude that the evidence a party seeks to admit is what that party claims it to be. The process of authentication is often referred to as "laying a foundation" for the evidence desired to be admitted at trial.
There are several different methods that can be used to authenticate evidence, many of which are listed in Federal Rule of Evidence 901. These include testimony of a witness with knowledge of the matter, evidence of public records, and evidence of distinctive characteristics among many others.
Notably absent from FRE 901 are rules involving text messages or other forms of modern communication. For the purposes of text messages, witness testimony is generally used to authenticate printouts of text messages. To successfully lay a foundation to introduce text messages, these witnesses must establish that two of the following are true:
- The listed phone number is the phone number of the person the text is attributed to,
- Substance of the message is recognizable as being from the purported sender,
- The purported author responded under other circumstances as if they were the author,
- Other corroborative evidence under the given circumstances establishes identity.
For email or social media communications, a name attached to any given email account or social media account is insufficient to lay a foundation upon which they can be introduced into evidence. Most courts will look to any other corroborating evidence such as the list of contacts, the number of people with access to the account, and the nature of interactions other people had with the account to show that the alleged account was owned/operated by the person in question.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]