The news this week contained a story from Australia about the use of Facebook as a method of serving legal notices. In this scenario, some folks decided to stop paying the mortgage on their home. The lender tried some of the familiar methods of serving notice of default on the loan - they mailed "several" letters and tried "about a dozen times" to find the non-paying residents at the home. When neither of these methods worked, the lender decided to send notice of default to the residents through their Facebook accounts.. and the courts ruled that this was acceptable notice.
My own personal experience with legal notices is a bit different. I am planning to do some work on my home, and some of the changes will require approval from the local Planning Board in my community. As part of gaining this approval, I have had to send certified letters to my neighbors telling them of my plans. I also had to publish the legal notice (twice) in a local newspaper. This was a very "paper-intensive" process, and one that cost me about $250 to accomplish.
Now, I am not going to offer comment on the wisdom of defaulting on mortgage loans, nor on the apparent differences in legal processes between Australia and the United States. But I do want to ask you to think about the use of "next-generation" communications methods for important communications.
Traditionally, important communications (legal notices, for example) required great care to ensure that the message was delivered to the appropriate audience ("return receipt" service at the postal service), that the authorship of the communications could be verified (ink signatures on contracts) and that the document had not been tampered with (does anyone remember wax seals?). Are these requirements different today? In a world where spam email can be sent from what appears to be my email address, or where video messages can easily be edited to change the people appearing in the scene, is it wise to rely on these methods of communication for transmitting "important" notices (like a notice of eviction, for example)?
I would argue that our job is to encourage the use of multimedia communications whenever possible - this method of communication is easier, faster, more effective, and less expensive - but we also need to take steps to ensure that the messages are secure and authentic. We need to be able to trust our electronic communications to the same degree that we trust the postal service (or that our ancestors trusted documents sealed with wax). The key is to develop the tools that provide for trusted IP multimedia communications, and to make them easily and widely available.
In the near future, we'll be talking more about this topic - in the meantime, I am very interested in your opinions. Do you think you can trust IP multimedia communications today? What can we do to increase that trust? You can reach me by commenting here, or directly to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.