| WASHINGTON, June 25
WASHINGTON, June 25 The trial of a U.S. soldier
accused of providing classified materials to WikiLeaks is unique
for the size of the leak and also faces the unresolved cyber-age
issue of whether Tweets and Web pages can be admitted as
Judge Colonel Denise Lind was left to wrestle with this
question when the court-martial of Private First Class Bradley
Manning, who is accused of the largest leak of classified
material in U.S. history, last convened a week ago.
Manning's attorneys had argued that Twitter postings offered
by prosecutors did not meet evidence standards.
When the trial resumes on Wednesday, it will take up the
issue, which is sufficiently thorny that the U.S. federal court
system's Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules is to meet in
October to weigh whether its rules should be changed to take
into account technological advances in how evidence is preserved
"It's definitely a brave new world where they (courts) don't
know how those old standards apply to new technology," said
Colin Miller, an associate law professor at the University of
It is a problem that courts cannot escape, as evidence from
social media and other online postings is increasingly playing a
role in court cases.
A study last year by X1 Discovery, an online search firm,
showed that evidence from social networking sites played a
significant role in almost 700 state and federal cases over a
Jeffrey Bellin, a professor at William and Mary Law School,
said the Internet and the explosion in social media such as
Twitter and Facebook were an underutilized resource since they
offered material that was "frozen in time."
"We might not be harnessing the full value out of what is
out there on the Internet," said Bellin, who backs easing
hearsay evidence rules for some Internet material.
Manning's lawyers argued at the court in Fort Meade,
Maryland last week that Twitter postings and an archived
WikiLeaks page offered as evidence by prosecutors were invalid
since the prosecution had accessed them indirectly through
Google rather than directly through Twitter or WikiLeaks. The
judge put off ruling on the matter.
Miller and other law professors said evidence rules had
remained unchanged even as online technology advanced. Judges
still have to decide whether evidence is authentic and whether
to admit hearsay - a statement made out of court offered as
U.S. courts have given different interpretations about what
makes electronic material authentic.
"It's generally ... not enough to offer a printout of a
Tweet. Usually you need more than that because it's so easy to
manufacture that kind of stuff," said Stephen Saltzburg, a law
professor at George Washington University.
Courts often turn to experts or online firms to certify
evidence as authentic. In 2009, a New York district attorney
subpoenaed Facebook Inc records to verify a teenager's alibi
that he was updating his Facebook page when a robbery took
Facebook itself has a site - Law Enforcement Online Requests
- for police seeking account records.