Better Internal Controls For Compliance: Registered E-mail = Legal Proof

Thursday, June 1, 2006 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Zafar Khan, Founder and CEO of RPost. See

Editor: What is Registered E-mail?

Khan: Registered E-mail is a simple-to-use service designed to protect the sender in those instances where the sending, content or time of an e-mail are disputed, in addition to enhancing efficiency and cost-savings. Think of it as legal proof for important e-mail transactions - proof that can save you time, money, and headaches.

Editor: What inspired you to create Registered E-mail?

Khan: In 1999, one of RPost's co-founders, Dr. Terrance Tomkow, ordered a PDA on-line. A few minutes later he decided against the purchase and immediately fired off an e-mail cancelling the order. The company, however, claimed it never received the cancellation, and refused to take back the unwanted purchased item. Tomkow argued that because the e-mail was in his "sent" folder and that it had not been bounced back, it must have been received. Nevertheless, the company insisted this proved nothing, nor did the original time stamp on Tomkow's e-mail, which, they argued, could have been fabricated. Aggravated but also inspired, Tomkow set about developing an e-mail program that would mimic what registered postal mail provides:proof of receipt by the intended recipient.

Editor: Why is Registered E-mail important in today's business climate?

Khan: The simple fact that almost everyone has access to some sort of electronic mail capability causes us to take a lot for granted. While e-mail users are becoming more aware of the electronic record they have created, it is important to consider that these electronic records can serve as a critically important defense for business transactions, if properly managed.

In the case of a dispute over content, timing, sending or receiving of an e-mail, the archiving of that e-mail in electronic or printed form provides very little protection after the fact. With two clicks of the mouse, one could change anything in standard e-mail and represent it to be the original e-mail. Therefore, it is important to consider that the recipient of an important e-mail transaction could alter the original e-mail and then subsequently challenge the sender's archived copy as being fraudulent. Also, the fact that something appears in a "sent" folder does not mean that it was ever sent - one can drag anything into that folder.

Editor: Is it really that easy to alter an e-mail record?

Khan: In most cases, the recipient of standard e-mail messages can easily change the text, the "from" address, the content of the attachments, the "time sent" and also move it to any folder to suit his or her needs in perpetrating a hoax. Plus, the recipient's computer can be set to read any time other than the actual time.

Just when you need your e-mail record to stand up to scrutiny, your opposition could simply claim that: "they did not receive your e-mail" - (the critical e-mail you represented as sent and received) or "that is not what your e-mail said" when they received it. Or worse, someone could deliberately manipulate your e-mail, print it out, and represent it as the truth. With standard e-mail records and archives, you are exposed to such challenges without the necessary defense.

Editor: How does the Registered E-mail service work, in basic terms?

Khan: Just as a signature confirms delivery of FedEx, a digitally recorded server-to-server dialogue of message acceptance is folded into a Registered Receipt e-mail and returned to the sender to confirm delivery and content of the sent Registered E-mail message. The unique attributes of the RPost service is the ability to capture the server-to-server dialogue (in practice, servers often do not communicate in full compliance with the standard languages) for the sender, associate that dialogue with the precise content and times of transmission, and interpret the dialogue for the non-technical person.

The RPost Registered E-mail system, in capturing the server-to-server dialogue, uses proprietary algorithms to interpret those dialogues for the layperson to understand, and uses cryptography to associate the precise content of the transmission with those dialogues and precise times of sending and receiving. This is packaged in the form of a Registered Receipt e-mail, which is returned to the sender as a durable, verifiable, self-contained record of the entire e-mail transaction. This Registered Receipt record can also be used as a verification tool to re-construct the original e-mail content and attachments as needed by the sender as neither RPost nor any other party stores a copy of the e-mail, receipt, or transmission information. The Registered Receipt e-mail is the sole official record of the Registered E-mail transaction. (Note: neither hard-copy letters nor FedEx, etc. can provide proof of the content transmitted, and in this instance RPost provides an even higher level of protection.)

Editor: How does this fit within the area of "compliance"?

Khan: Registered E-mail services allow the sender to prove that they have complied with the bylaw, contractual, or regulated notification provision. While using USPS first class mail, the presumption of "delivery" is evidenced where you have a record of sending; however, under the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act, e-mail "delivery" is evidenced when the recipient's agent, their mail server, has accepted the entire data transmission. Therefore, under electronic statutes, the burden is on the sender to prove "receipt" of the e-mail, which is one of the key features of the RPost system.

Further, provisions of electronic law and recent court decisions underscore the fact that e-business systems require proper transaction documentation. Often there is a requirement for a reliable recordkeeping management system that can record, retrieve and authenticate electronic messages involving important business communications and transactions (both content of e-mail and attachments, and official time sent and received). The RPost Registered Receipt e-mail is a simple, elegant solution to record retention and proof of notice compliance requirements.

Editor: Do Registered E-mail messages stand up in court?

Khan: Yes, Registered E-mail messages hold far greater evidential weight than traditional mail, courier, fax, or e-mail, and therefore, should provide the sender with protection that will stand up to scrutiny in a dispute resolution situation. Registered E-mail would provide the sender the upper hand in any legal discovery disputes.

From the perspective of a mediator, arbitrator, or judicial officer, one looks first at the evidentiary value of what is submitted in gauging its trustworthiness. Evidential weight is about reducing uncertainty surrounding the evidence. The party with the greater evidential weight will win in most cases, or at least mitigate its liability.

Editor: Will Registered E-mail services integrate seamlessly with other components (archive, records management, document management, etc.) of an overall compliance solution and strategy?

Khan: Yes. The Registered E-mail service seamlessly plugs into virtually any e-mail archive or compliance solution. As a rule of thumb, if your system manages e-mail records, you can easily add Registered E-mail services to it.

Editor: Creating a compliance strategy requires enterprises to develop processes for effective e-mail management. How does Registered E-mail enhance a company's capability to classify, store, and manage the enormous volume of electronic communications?

Khan: Having spoken to the simplicity of the Registered Receipt e-mail for recording purposes, from a sender's perspective or an organizational perspective, if an electronic message was deemed important enough to have been sent via "Registered E-mail," then someone, through automated policies or ad-hoc, has classified that e-mail as important enough to then be recorded and archived. Therefore, a first level of classification would be "Registered" = important and archive with distinct policies. Note: In addition to the benefits of the Registered Receipt e-mail, the Registered E-mail service also has the inherent capability of classifying messages with client or customer codes or other significant identifiers.

Editor: Has the legal community begun to embrace this technology?

Khan: Various bar associations have endorsed the Registered E-mail services as legal proof for Internet e-mail. These organizations want to educate attorneys about effective tools that better their representation of their clients. For example, The Los Angeles County Bar has endorsed the Registered E-mail service as a tool to reduce cost, simplify processes, and bring the legal community into conformity with modern business practices.

Further, attorney users range from in-house counsel to legal oriented entities such as the United States Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress that audits the Federal government, to attorneys at global firms such as Greenberg Traurig, to sole practitioners and small law offices.

Editor: What would you relay to readers as a basic test of whether they should be using Registered E-mail services for some of their messages?

Khan: The basic test is, does it matter if the original e-mail message is misquoted, never received or read, delivered but its actual receipt denied, insured of content integrity from reader to reader or challenged based upon the actual time sent and received? Do you have or plan to have a records retention policy or e-mail archive system in place?

If your answer is "yes" to any of these questions, then you should be taking the necessary steps to protect yourself and your clients' important e-mail transactions with Registered E-mail services.

Please email the interviewee at with questions about this interview.