Want to Notarize a Phone Call in China? There’s an App for That

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I’m not sure what this says about how litigious Chinese society has become, but a telecom company in Hangzhou has developed a mobile phone application for making audio recordings of phone calls that can be later used as evidence in court. If you’re not familiar with China’s legal system, and particularly if you’re from a Common Law country, the primary function of the notary office here is not to witness signatures on documents. Among their duties, notarial officials verify documents, including the content of such. If you want to introduce certain kinds of items in court, you need to gather this evidence in the proper manner, which often includes obtaining a notarial report.

I usually run across the notary office in IP enforcement cases, where the key piece of evidence is a purchase of the infringing product. It’s not enough to buy the item and get a receipt; you need the notarial official along to witness the transaction. This can be quite difficult when you’re dealing with suspicious counterfeiters, but that’s life.

It used to be that evidence like audio recordings, IM and SMS conversations, and emails were considered weak evidence. You could bring this stuff to court with you, but a judge probably wouldn’t give it much weight since it was difficult to verify. In some instances, if you were really organized, you could take your electronic device to the notary office and have them verify the information. Big pain in the ass.

But how many people want to schlep over to the notary office for stuff like that? And what about that abusive, threatening phone call that you want to use in your divorce case? Placing the call (not to mention receiving one) while you are in the notary office is not exactly convenient. There must be a better way, right?

Enter the entrepreneurial spirit, alive and well down in Hangzhou. The company, China Tietong, developed an application that allows litigious-minded folks to make an audio recording of phone calls that they later want to use in court. At the beginning of the call, one connects to the service, and then the app can verify the details of the call. This was created in cooperation with one of Hangzhou’s notary offices.

The big (obvious) question here is whether a judge would actually accept this evidence as verified. I have my doubts, although if a real notary office is on board, that might mean a user can obtain a notarial certificate after using the application. If so, a judge would most likely treat the evidence the same as if a notarial official was standing right there when the call was recorded.

Funky stuff. But I’d still like to know how many folks out there really need to record phone calls. That kind of paranoia kinda creeps me out.