Authenticity in a Digital Era: Still a Document Process: The Case of Laboratory Notebooks
Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Symposium on Document Engineering
Asymmetric cryptography brings the ability for anyone on earth to check the signature of a digital object (Diffie & Hellman, 1976). From that perspective, trusted timestamping of a digital object provides very strong evidence of its author or inventor and integrity (Haber, 1991). 26 years later, one might have expected that trusted timestamping would have long ago replaced traditional paper laboratory notebooks, which has not happened yet. In this paper, we argue that the reason is that authenticity is a document process: while trusted timestamping remains a necessary part of the process, a digital object must be involved in a sociotechnical process in order to become a document. We first point out the gap, intractable with paper, between the strict administrative workflow required to create strong evidence, and the fluidity of collaborative authoring needed for creativity. This gap is relevant to laboratory notebooks, as they are commonly used by inventors to attest that they discovered elements at a specific time, in a specific context. Then we explain the design and implementation of our software system, according to document theory (Buckland, 1997), in order to reinvent the whole process to minimize the administrative burden, while preserving its well-known and valuable properties.