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“Watch out for people that take so-called “notes,” when the notes NEVER EXISTED until needed”
To avoid possible false allegations, contemporaneous notes should always be timestamped in a trusted note-taking system so that the writer can PROVE when they were written.
This eliminates the allegation of ‘fake’ notes that were created “when needed”.
The US President, Donald J. Trump recently tweeted…
The key statement within this tweet is his claim that the “notes never existed until needed”.
Can we determine when these “notes” were created?
You may be surprised to learn that using popular word processing applications may leave this question unanswered.
However, it would be very easy, if they were created in an immutable system like Forensic Notes!
President Trump makes a valid and interesting point about contemporaneous notes and those that claim to have written them. Being able to independently verify when they wrote the note is a key component to their credibility.
Taking good notes matters.
PROVING when you took good notes matters even more.
This is why Forensic Notes was created.
Forensic Notes allows you to create notes while ensuring you can always PROVE when you wrote them.
From a technical perspective, every note is Digitally Signed and Timestamped, using the same technology used by major banks and government agencies.
After you write a note, it is made immutable (can’t change) and it includes the date/time of when it was written.
This is similar to the idea of placing the note on the blockchain, which is often in the news.
And like the blockchain, anyone with a copy of your notes could simply drag & drop your notes on our verification page to confirm the notes were the originals and unaltered.
As more information comes out on how these notes were written, we will see if the authors are able to PROVE when they were written. Perhaps they used Forensic Notes?
Interested in protecting your credibility?
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1. Open the Forensic Note ZIP Archive (.zip) that you downloaded from your account.
2. Open a File Explorer window and navigate to a folder to save your files.
3. Adjust both the File Explorer window and ZIP Archive window on your screen so that you can see both at the same time (you may need to adjust the size of each window).
4. Select all files including the Forensic Note, Timestamp Certificate and attachment(s) within your ZIP Archive (.zip).
5. Drag & Drop the files from the ZIP Archive into the second (2nd) File Explorer window you opened in step 2. Files will automatically be extracted.
NOTE: You will need to enter your ZIP Archive password when extracting the files. Once extracted, your files will NOT BE PASSWORD PROTECTED. Please ensure you’ve extracted the files to a secure folder that only you can access if your notes must remain private.
The instructions within this article are provided to validate a Forensic Note via Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat. However, validation via the Forensic Notes Proprietary Validation Tool is recommended due to its ease of use and validation capabilities.
1. Open a Forensic Note / Notebook within Adobe Reader or Acrobat and ensure that the “Valid Forensic Note” signature panel is displayed (see below). If Digital Certificate has not been trusted, go to Trust Digital Signing Certificate and follow the instructions before proceeding.
2. Confirm that the PDF has been Digitally Signed by [email protected]
3. Confirm that the document has not been modified since the signature was applied.
4. Confirm that the signing time of the document approximately matches the time you have recorded within the Forensic Note or Forensic Notebook. To view the signing time of the Forensic Note, you must “Show Signature Properties…”.
While validating a Forensic Note or a Forensic Notebook, up to three (3) different dates & times may be found which will all be valid if they fall within a couple minutes of each other due to how Forensic Notes are processed. Forensic Notes are processed in three (3) distinctive steps:
Forensic Note information in saved read-only into the database. The date and time associated with saving the data into the Forensic Notes application is recorded and printed within the generated PDF.
A Forensic Notes PDF is generated which includes the printed date and time from Step #1. The Forensic Note PDF is then Digitally Signed with a Digital Signing Certificate. The date and time associated with the Digital Signature is recorded within the Digital Signature. This Digital Signature’s signing date can then be displayed within the PDF as the Signing Date & Time. (see Validate via Adobe Reader / Acrobat – Step #4)
A one-way HASH of the Forensic Note PDF is sent to our independent and trusted third-party Timestamping Authority (TSA) which provides a timestamp of the Forensic Note or Forensic Notebook. The date and time associated with the timestamping is recorded within the Digital Timestamp Certificate and returned to the Forensic Notes application. (see Validate via Timestamp Certificate)
These three (3) steps are normally processed quickly resulting in minimal differences in times associated with all three steps. However, larger documents or heavy network utilization may result in longer delays between steps causing more significant time differences. As a result, times should approximately match within a couple minutes’ difference.
Each Forensic Note PDF has been Digitally Signed by [email protected]. As a result, any attempts to change the Forensic Notes PDF will result in a warning to the user when the Forensic Note is viewed within Adobe Reader / Acrobat as shown below.
The above warnings indicate that the Forensic Note was modified in some way since it was originally saved and signed within the Forensic Notes application.
The certificate associated with the Digital Signature has not been trusted on the computer viewing the Forensic Note. This is expected when first viewing a Forensic Note on a computer for the first time. For steps on how to trust the Digital Certificate associated with the Digital Signature, go to How to Trust Digital Signing Certificate.
Forensic Notes are timestamped by DigiStamp, an independent & trusted Timestamping Authority (TSA). DigiStamps’ Timestamp Certificate (.p7s extension file) is used to verify the date and time of your Forensic Note if the validity of the Forensic Note is ever questioned.
The instructions within this article are provided to validate a Forensic Note with the generated Timestamp Certificate. However, validation via timestamp should only occur if the validity of the Forensic Note is questioned as the steps below are more complex than using the Forensic Notes Proprietary Validation Tool.
1. Open the Forensic Note ZIP Archive (.zip) that you downloaded from your account
2. Locate the Forensic Note and Timestamp Certificate
3. Extract files from ZIP Archive into a regular folder
4. Go to: DigiStamp Timestamp Verification Tool
5. Drag & Drop the files into the DigiStamp Timestamp Verification application or press the “Choose Files” button to select your files from within File Explorer.
NOTE: Your personal information is not uploaded to the DigiStamp server.
~ Screen capture from DigiStamp site shown above (“Click to show instruction” clicked)
The following display confirms that the timestamp matches the Forensic Note. The date & time saved within the Timestamp Certificate is displayed within the DigiStamp confirmation application.
Changing the filename of the Forensic Note or Timestamp Certificate has no effect on the validation process.
Changing a filename does not change the contents of the file or its’ HASH value. The HASH (SHA-512) value is used to validate a file with an associated timestamp.
All dates & times stored or displayed are in UTC (Universal Time Coordinated).
UTC = GMT (Greenwich Mean Time
Technically, UTC is a time standard whereas GMT is time zone. Both are often used interchangeably and represent the same time offset.
The following shows that the Timestamp Certificate does not match the Forensic Note provided. If the filenames match but the following information is displayed, then this could be an indication that the Forensic Note has been altered in some way.
Every Forensic Note and Forensic Notebook is Digitally Signed by a Digital Signing Certificate issued by Comodo, a Certificate Authority (CA). By default, Adobe Reader / Acrobat do not have knowledge of the certificate which results in the warning “At least one signature has problems” (as shown below).
To properly validate your Forensic Notes and Forensic Notebooks, follow the steps outlined below which will add the Digital Signing Certificate to your list of Truststed Certificates. The following steps only need to be completed once on each computer viewing Forensic Notes and Notebooks.
NOTE: The following instructions are for Adobe Acrobat Reader CS. Other versions of Adobe Acrobat will have similar features and options.
1. Click on “Signature Panel”
2. Click the dropdown menu next to “Validate All”
3. Click on “Validate Signature”
4. Click the “Signature Properties…” button
The following menu shows the properties of the Digital Signature. As shown, the Forensic Note has not been modified since it was Digitally Signed.
1. Click the “Show Signer’s Certificate…” button
The following menu shows further information related to the Digital Certificate.
1. Click the “Trust” tab
The following menu shows that the associated Digital Certificate is not trusted.
1. Click the “Add to Trusted Certificates…” button
This following menu allows you to set the Trust level for the Digital Certificate associated with Forensic Notes and Notebooks. To properly validate Forensic Notes and Notebooks, you only need to ensure that the following two (2) options are selected:
1. Use this certificate as a trusted root
2. Certified documents
3. Click “Ok” to save changes
Now that the Digital Certificate is trusted within Adobe Reader/Acrobat, the Forensic Note or Notebook must be re-validated as it will continue to show errors until completed.
1. Click on menu icon next to “Validate All”
2. Click on “Validate Signature”
The Digital Signature will be re-validated now that the Digital Certificate is trusted.
The Signature Panel should now show the following message:
“Signed and all signatures are valid”
To view the list of Trusted Certificates within Adobe Reader, following these steps:
1. Click “Preferences…” within “Edit” menu
2. Click “Signatures”
3. Click “More…” button within “Identities & Trusted Certificates”
4. View list of Trusted Certificates
Forensic Notes allows you to validate the authenticity of notes and attachments by physical file or by providing a SHA-512 Hash. To determine the SHA-512 Hash of your physical file, we suggest you download the following tool. Although it looks a bit ‘dated’, it is one of the easier to use applications for this purpose.
Download links can be found near the bottom of the page.
Electronic signatures (eSignatures) are the equivalent of a handwritten signature in the paper world. In simple terms, an electronic signature is simply a digital image of a signature displayed within an electronic document.
Digital signatures strengthen electronic signatures by encrypting the contents of a document which allows applications to detect if the document was tampered with or altered.
Although digital signatures appear to be complicated, the knowledge required to use and validate digitally signed documents associated with Forensic Notes is minimal.
For most people using Forensic Notes, the above information is all that is needed to understand the Digital Signing process.
Forensic Notes Proprietary Validation Tool will complete the complex validation and simply display the validity of the document as either being Valid (Green) or Invalid (Red).
The digital signature relies on a digital fingerprint which is a SHA-512 Hash value. The Hash value is calculated using a one-way encryption algorithm which generates the unique value for the document.
The only way to generate a duplicate SHA-512 Hash value is if an exact duplicate file is analyzed.
The digital fingerprint is then encrypted with a Private Key through a process involving Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).
As part of the Digital Signing process utilized by Forensic Notes, an independent digital timestamp is obtained from DigiStamp, our Timstamping Authority (TSA).
DigiStamp is trusted by large banks, government agencies and global organizations.
The digital timestamp is embedded within the Digital Signature at the time of signing. This allows the person viewing the document to know the exact data and time the document was digitally signed.
The result is an electronic document that is designed to detect tampering and modifications. If any modification or tampering of the document occurs, the signature becomes invalid and will fail to validate using Forensic Notes Proprietary Validation Tool.
In addition, the digital signature can be checked and validated within Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat.
From a legal perspective, this allows the creator of the Forensic Note to prove that a note or attached document existed at the date and time specified.
Not only can the owner prove that the note or attachment existed, but also that it has not been modified or altered since the signature was applied.
This is vital for admitting documents into a court room – as there may be challenges about the reliability of your documents and the time they were actually written.
Many people are not aware that a document can be easily manipulated to appear as if it was created days, months or even years in the past. The process can be easily accomplished by:
The result will be a document that appears to have been created in the past. Although it may be possible for an experienced digital forensic examiner to determine the original date, the process to do so is both difficult and time consuming.
Digital Signatures and Forensic Notes Proprietary Validation Tool solves the problem of being unable to prove when a document was saved. This ensures that the author of each Forensic Note can easily PROVE when a note or document was created.
As a result, you will be able to present your notes and documents and face any scrutiny with credibility and integrity.
Many people enquire about Workplace Bullying Lawsuits or having to work for a bullying boss, unfortunately the reality is that bullying is likely not illegal in your area. But, workplace bullying can often lead to Hostile Work Environments with many EEOC lawsuits & settlements highlighted below.
Over the years there have been some notable cases brought by employees who have been discriminated against in one way or the other and have had to endure working in hostile work environments.
Below are some notable cases:
Can victims of hostile work environments and discrimination find justice?
A federal jury awarded $200,000 in punitive damages to three former employees of AA Foundries in a racial harassment lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced.
The EEOC’s lawsuit charged AA Foundries, Inc., a local San Antonio manufacturer of ferrous castings and producer of foundry mold machines, with racially harassing its African-American employees in violation of federal law.
One African-American employee testified at trial that he filed an EEOC complaint because he wanted his children to learn not to be prejudiced against others nor for others to be prejudiced against them in the workplace.
AA Foundries Superintendent, the top plant official, not only used the “N” word himself, but admitted that it did not bother him that derogatory racial slurs were commonly heard in the workplace.
The superintendent also called adult African-American male employees “mother-f—g boys,” posted racially-tinged written material in the break room, and routinely slandered them referring to them as “you people” and accusing African-Americans of always stealing and wanting welfare.
After several employees filed racial harassment charges with the EEOC, a noose was displayed at the AA Foundries workplace. In response to employee complaints about this noose, the superintendent described such reports as “BS” and stated the noose “was no big deal” and that “you people are too sensitive.”
This type of conduct constitutes a hostile work environment, a form of race-based discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action Number 5:11-cv-792, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a Federal agency in the United States which enforces employment laws.
View our detailed article on how to submit issues to the EEOC and how the EEOC can help you.
2. Race Discrimination Settlement : Eclipse Advantage Lawsuit
Eclipse Advantage Sued by EEOC for Racially Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit…that Eclipse Advantage, Inc., violated federal law by subjecting an African-American employee to racial discrimination and retaliation at its Aldi Food Service warehouse in Hinckley, Ohio.
The EEOC charged that Rodney Williams began working in a supervisory position with the company in August 2009, and shortly thereafter was subjected to racial epithets from his superiors and was demoted complaining about a racially hostile work environment.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on national origin, race, color, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or religion and protects employees who complain about or oppose such discrimination from retaliation.
The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC seeks to eliminate these discriminatory practices and have Eclipse Advantage compensate Williams for his losses and provide equal opportunities to black employees.
If you’ve been harassed, discriminated against or wrongfully terminated from your job, chances are, you’re considering filing a lawsuit or at least exploring what options are available to you.
But where do you start? Documentation will be key. Read our article on the 7 documents you should may require.
3. Hostile Work Environment Settlement : Seattle City Light workers win bias lawsuit
In this case, a jury found that two employees of Seattle City Light, a Vietnamese-American and an African-American, had been discriminated against and faced a hostile work environment because of their races. The jury awarded them more than $1.4 million.
Phi Trinh, a hydroelectric-power supervisor, was discriminated against in the promotion process and the jury awarded him $947,290 for emotional harm and lost wages.
The jury also concluded that Mattie Bailey, a black communications manager, also endured workplace hostility because of her race and was not paid equitably for her work. Bailey was awarded $503,195.
This eBook covers an extensive numbers of issues, & practical steps you can take, including:
Disclosure: We’ve read the book and found it be a helpful resource. If you make a purchase via this link, we may receive a small commission.
4. Disability Discrimination Settlement : Benny Boyd Car Dealership to Pay $250,000 to Former Manager in EEOC Settlement
Benny Boyd Ltd. was forced to pay $250,000 in damages and back pay to former manager Randall Hurst to settle a federal disability discrimination suit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.
The EEOC had charged the automobile dealership with disability discrimination law by denying a partnership to Hurst because of his multiple sclerosis, subjecting him to a hostile work environment and forcing him to quit as a result.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Hurst was wooed away from a lucrative job at another dealership by Benny Boyd to be the General Manager of its Lubbock location.
The EEOC alleged that the compensation package offered Hurst included a promise of partnership. After successfully operating the dealership for several months, Hurst was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and his medical condition was disclosed to the company’s top management staff. Thereafter, the EEOC contended, the company failed to honor its promise of extending a partnership to Hurst, and he was told that the reason was his MS.
The EEOC also alleged that Hurst’s supervisor subjected him to demeaning comments about his diagnosis, including asking him, “What’s wrong with you? Are you a cripple?” and telling him, “You are on your last quarter, buddy, since you have MS.”
The company failed to take any remedial action to stop the unwelcome behavior, the EEOC alleged.
As a result of the continuing harassment based on his disability and the substantial loss of compensation due to the denial of partnership, the EEOC contended that Hurst was forced to resign in November 2012.
The EEOC filed suit after investigating the case, finding reasonable cause to believe that the alleged discrimination took place, and then attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
5. Hostile Work Environment Settlement : Swissôtel Employment Services L.L.C. and Swissôtel Chicago, Inc.
In this case, the EEOC alleged that charging party, who worked as a steward cleaning floors and washing dishes, was subjected to a hostile work environment due to his mental impairment.
His supervisor called him a “retard,” swore at him, and threatened to have him fired. He also scheduled the charging party to back-to-back shifts something that was not required of other employees.
Despite repeated complaints to human resources department, the Defendant failed to take corrective action. The Defendant ultimately terminated the charging party in retaliation for having complained of discrimination.
The case was settled for $90,000 in monetary damages and injunctive relief.
6. Disability Discrimination Settlement : Luby’s, Inc.
In this case, the Commission alleged that charging party, a floor attendant with an intellectual disability, was subjected to a hostile work environment because of her disability.
Defendant, restaurant chain, had accommodated charging party by providing a job coach for her but when a new manager took over, he refused to repeat instructions, berated her, told her to “shut up” when she asked about her job duties, and got impatient and angry with her for working and speaking slowly.
The new manager also permitted coworkers to mimic her speech, tease her about stuttering, bark at her, and threaten to hurt her with a bread slicer. Despite repeated complaints, no action was taken.
Charging party was further retaliated against and ultimately was forced to resign, i.e. constructively discharged.
Case settled for $90,000 in monetary damages and injunctive relief as well as attorney’s fees in amount of $60,000 to the Arizona Center for Disability Law, which represented her in intervening in EEOC’s suit.
7. Hostile Work Environment Settlement : Compensatory Damages Awarded To Seven Complainants Subjected To Hostile Work Environment
The complainants in this case filed an EEO complaint as a group, alleging, among other things, that the US Postal Service subjected them to a hostile work environment on the basis of sex.
Following a hearing, it was found that the Agency, ie the US Postal Service, was liable for the harassment because it did not respond to the situation. The Commission found that Complainants’ emotional and physical harm were the result of suffering years of harassment by a male coworker.
The record established that all of the Complainants were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder because of the harassment, and many had evidence of severe emotional and physical harm.
The Commission conducted a detailed analysis of each Complainant’s damages directly attributable to the harassment.
After taking into consideration the nature of the discriminatory acts, the severity of the physical and emotional harm suffered, and the many years the Complainants suffered the harm (sometimes seven years or more), the Commission awarded each Complainant between $45,000 and $75,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages.Leggett et. al. v. U.S. Postal Serv., EEOC Appeal Nos. 0720110039, et al., (July 12, 2012).
8. Hostile Work Environment Settlement : $50,000 Awarded for Sex-Based Harassment
In this case, the complainant was subjected to hostile work environment harassment because of her sex.
The complainant indicated that the hostile work environment affected her health and caused her a great deal of stress, as well as headaches, and an upset stomach.
She had trouble sleeping and concentrating, and experienced depression and anxiety.
The complainant stated that the stress negatively affected her relationship with her husband and son.
The complainant stated that she called in sick once or twice a month because she did not want to be at work because of the hostile environment.
The record also showed that the complainant was off work for approximately three months due to the stress of the harassing events.
The Department of the Army, which was her employer did not specifically dispute any of the testimony pertaining to the pain and suffering the complainant experienced.
Therefore, the EEOC concluded that the complainant was entitled to an award of $50,000 in compensatory damages.Bradstreet v. Dep’t of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 0120112517 (June 27, 2012).
We get that a lot of people don’t get excited about note-taking, but for us, it has become a passion and a fundamental part of our daily lives.
Hopefully our story will inspire you to look deeper into your documentation strategies, whether it’s for your business, organization, or personal life.
The story of Forensic Notes is born out of the frustration of trying to keep great notes in a field were note-taking is essential – Digital Forensics.
Ironically, in a field of high-technology, we were initially taking hand-written notes.
We quickly found ourselves frustrated, however, with trying to keep track of (or misplacing) notes for multiple ongoing investigations.
Not only was it hard to keep track of our notes, trying to read our own writing or recording long strings of digital data by hand was both tedious and tiresome.
It didn’t take us long to make the switch to using electronic notes using popular word processing and spreadsheet applications.
We immediately enjoyed the convenience of being able to read our own writing, spell-checking, searching key-terms, and being able to copy & paste data and images directly into our notes.
However, we started to get a nagging feeling that something was wrong with our method.
We had been trained in the strict rules of note-keeping when it came to pen & paper, which are focused on ensuring contemporaneous notes cannot be created or altered after the fact. But to our surprise, there were no real rules or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for keeping digital notes.
And because we were working in the field of digital forensics, we realized how easy it would be to alter these key electronic documents with no easy or reliable method to identify or track such changes.
Then we started to get worried.
If our electronic notes were not accepted in court, then obviously all our hard work was for nothing.
After searching for an acceptable solution and finding none, we asked…
What if we could build an electronic note-taking application that followed and mimicked the strict rules of the pen and paper?
And this was the birth of Forensic Notes.
Our initial goal was simple, replicate the benefits of a physical notebook while allowing access to the technological conveniences available in a digital format.
We already achieved our initial goal and many more.
But our story is far from over!
We are still making notes, and looking for ways to make the process easier, faster, and more accessible for the various ways other people want to make their notes.
And that’s Forensics Notes in a nutshell.
Want to know more about the product and the people who make up the Forensic Notes Team?
Founder & CEO
Robert Merriott has been a municipal police officer for over 12 years working as a frontline police officer, tactical operator, and most recently as a detective in the Technological Crime Unit specializing in Digital Forensics and Cybercrime.
Prior to his policing career, Robert obtained a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and worked in the private sector as a web application developer. While working as a developer, Robert was awarded Microsoft MVP status and was a founding board member of the ASPInsiders, an organization that worked closely with Microsoft to provide expert feedback on the development of the ASP.NET web application framework.
As a result of his policing and private sector work experience, Robert understands the threats and liabilities faced by organizations with an online presence as well as the challenges faced by police agencies in investigating and preventing crimes.
Manager of Training
Mike Post has a degree in Behavioral Science and began his career working in education overseas.
After returning home, Mike moved his skills into Law Enforcement where he worked as a frontline police officer, an Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) investigator, and then as a Digital Forensic Examiner.
Mike has earned several certifications including CompTIA’s Network+.
Manager of Customer Success
John Pyper has a degree in Applied Science and worked as an Engineer for 9 years before moving his skills to Law Enforcement in 2001. As a police officer, John has worked over 10 years as a detective in the fields of Digital Forensics and Cybercrime.
John has worked on hundreds of investigations and examined over a thousand exhibits. John has presented evidence at various levels of the justice system including Supreme Court where he has been qualified as an expert in the field of digital forensics.
Customer Success Representative
Kimberly Owen is a caring professional dedicated to helping Forensic Notes clients succeed.
Prior to joining Forensic Notes, Kimberly worked within the airline industry as an inflight manager travelling around the globe. Recently, she took time off to start a family which has resulted in four wonderful children.
Kimberly excels in 1-on-1 interactions with clients due to her sincerity and sarcastic demeanor.
The proprietary Validation Tool below will allow you to prove the date that your Forensic Notebook, Individual Forensic Notes, and Attachments were written and confirm that they have not been modified since they were saved within Forensic Notes.
Below are three (3) files you can use to test the validation system.
The following Notebook is Valid, but additional change(s) were made to the electronic version of the Notebook within the Forensic Notes application which results in the following Forensic Notebook being valid, but outdated (Yellow).
Changes may include the user adding a new Forensic Note or marking an existing Forensic Note as deleted.
FACT: This is similar to Photocopying the notes within a paper notebook, but then adding a new note to the paper notebook afterwards. The existing photocopy is valid; it just doesn’t include all the information currently contained within the paper notebook which could be essential to your particular incident.
The following Notebook was modified within Adobe Reader and is therefore NOT valid.