Dates with a history

Readers with long memories (I am talking ten days or so here) may recall an article Setting up dates for lawyers in which I extended an olive branch to anonymous Blogger 585 with whom I had taken issue in previous posts. 585 had written two articles about the scope for confusion caused by multiple date values stored within some files. Although I have served my time handling rows and columns of data, there is enough to cover in the wider legal and supplier market, and I rarely get into technical minutiae.

What I am interested in (and why I passed on the links which you will find in my post) is the message to lawyers and judges that, whilst there is a mass of technical detail underlying the handling of electronic documents, it is not generally necessary for the lawyer to dirty his hands with it. The lawyer does, however, need to understand what kinds of problems can arise, so that they can be anticipated, so that advice can be sought on them and so that the implications are factored into the time and cost budgets. One good reason for keeping off technical points is that there is usually more than one viewpoint, and I do not particularly want to play host to arguments about the finer points of data handling.

That is a particularly so if the comments reach me with the caveat that they are of particular concern to readers born before 1752 – I am always keen to expand my audience but that particular demographic does not warrant much attention. Not unreasonably, Craig Ball’s disquisition on the effect of Britain’s delayed adoption of the Gregorian calendar on dates in Microsoft Word documents since 1601 is expressed in his comment as an aside. It is too interesting to ignore.  The meat of his observation, however has a rather more potential significance for 21st-century lawyers and includes a link to an article by Craig on dating e-mails passing between time zones.

Craig’s comment follows, with the request that if you disagree with him, perhaps you would tell him so yourself.
You state, “a printed e-mail will bear only one date. That may well be the correct date. As the articles show, however, it may equally be the wrong date in terms of the evidential value of the document.”

If you’ll permit a quibble, 585 was speaking of a word processed document, not an e-mail, and it’s an important distinction.

Absent fraud (from sophisticated spoofing to tried-and-true White Out and copier shennanigans), an e-mail date is one of the more reliable values you will come across in electronic evidence.  Granted, it has a window of variance attributable to, e.g., time zone and daylight savings time offsets (I talk about that here:, but apart from such minor variances, individual e-mails aren’t afflicted by the plethora of dates described by 585.  Again, I emphasize, absent falsification.

Although Word documents do have a marvelous embedded “created” date that I’ll touch on in a moment, the beauty of an e-mail is that it is obliged to conform to a fairly rigid structure in order to traverse the e-mail networks.  Dates of transmission and receipt, along with dates and times of hand offs between servers allow for a very reliable determination of time so long as you are looking at the top level message and not an embedded thread.

Just because I love the weird wonderfulness of it: Word documents carry an 8 byte hexadecimal value which, when reflects the number of 100-nanosecond intervals elapsed since 00:00 on January 1, 1601 to the date of the document’s “creation,” expressed in GMT.  Why 1601?  That date was selected because it marked the beginning of the 400-year cycle of the Gregorian calendar that also encompassed the period in which the so-called Win32 time standard was implemented.  This point has some minor significance to those in the U.K. because (and here I defer to my British cousins) you apparently hung back on the Gregorian calendar for quite a long time after those European Roman Catholics adopted same, so your dates can be off by 12 days or so.  Any readers born before 1752 should be concerned.


About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Discovery, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure, Lit Sup Technical, Litigation Support. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s