In the Duke University lacrosse team drama, lawyers began trying the evidence in the media the moment it surfaced. The allegation that players had raped a local woman at a party was quickly followed by headlines about incriminating e-mail, digital photos and a DNA test. The chattering class revved up to hash out all the angles — on TV, talk radio and blogs — but much of the debate, especially among attorneys, betrayed startling ignorance about the nature of digital information and its vulnerabilities as evidence.

As we have seen in so many recent high-profile cases, questions of guilt or liability appear to depend heavily upon evidence rooted in digital technology. The Duke lacrosse team investigation illustrates just how critical the authenticity of electronic information is to our legal system — and how far the legal profession has to go in educating itself about the issue.

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