Court Case Tests Right To Withhold Passwords


From an article Mathew J. Schwartz at InformationWeek

Does the constitutional right against self-incrimination give a criminal defendant the right to withhold computer passwords that law enforcement could used to decrypt a hard drive and obtain evidence against that defendant? That question is at the root of a Colorado court case centering on multiple mortgage fraud schemes, and a defendant’s encrypted laptop.

In particular, an indictment returned by a Denver grand jury on Oct. 1, 2010, charged Ramona Fricosu (aka Ramona Smith), 36, of Peyton, Colo., among other defendants, with multiple counts of bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements to a financial institution.

As part of that investigation, law enforcement agents obtained a search warrant for Fricosu’s house, which she shares with her mother, two children, and formerly shared with Scott Whatcott (aka Michael Scott Smith), 36, also a defendant in the case. As part of that search, investigators seized multiple computers and storage devices, including a Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop.

After obtaining another search warrant to search the laptop, investigators found that the contents had been encrypted. Accordingly, prosecutors demanded that Fricosu enter her password into the laptop, enabling them to decrypt the drive, or else provide them with a complete copy of the decrypted data.

But her attorney, Philip L. Dubois, has argued that doing so would violate her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Dubois himself is no stranger to encryption, having previously defended Philip Zimmermann, who created Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption software in 1991. Shortly after its introduction, the software became available abroad, which led to a Customs Service investigation in which Zimmermann was accused of breaking the Arms Export Control Act, for exporting strong cryptographic software, which was then classified as munitions. The investigation ended after three years; no charges were filed.

The entire InformationWeek article can be read here

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Assembling an effective Exchange data retention policy


From an article by Kevin Beaver, CISSP at Searchexchange.techtarget.com

Data retention is one of those unsexy areas of IT management that we know needs to be addressed but would rather ignore. Besides, that’s what your legal team is for, right?

Well, not really. And unfortunately, data retention is not something you can avoid. There are real ramifications if your business doesn’t properly retain and protect email messages, especially once there’s notice of a lawsuit. In addition, you can also create unnecessary business risks by holding onto Exchange email too long.

Data retention policy dos and don’ts
Exchange data retention is a science, not an art. You must have a clear and concise idea of what your business is willing to take on. Otherwise, you run the risk of increased liability, spoiled evidence and numerous other negative side effects when lawyers get involved.

Some companies think it’s as simple as saying, “We’re saving all email indefinitely” or “We should try to save what’s needed, and then delete everything else after a year or so.” It’s not.

Another common gaffe is when in-house legal counsel downloads a template off the Web and pulls a random retention time out of the air. Some people mistakenly think that this is enough for an effective data retention policy.

The entire article can be read here

Golf and Early Case Assessments – A Drama


Effective early case assessment is dependent on a complete data set.

On the average 97% of data generated within businesses is electronic. The average employee generates and receives up to 20 MB of email and potentially hundreds of MBs of office work files per day. Litigation is a huge problem these days for businesses. A huge amount of the cost of litigation is the cost of finding and reviewing electronically stored information (ESI) for both early case assessment as well as eDiscovery request response. ESI can hide anywhere in the corporate infrastructure; custodian workstations, network share drives, USB thumb drives, CD/DVDs, iPods etc. A centrally managed and fully indexed archive can speed the collection and review of potentially responsive records for early case assessment as well as more fully control and insure the placement of litigation holds.

No matter the case, the first question when you’re faced with litigation is whether the case has merit. If you haven’t prepared a case assessment strategy ahead of time, it will be difficult to quickly and effectively determine your strategy going forward; should you settle or fight…

An early case assessment capability provides you with four obvious benefits:

  • Provides an early indication of the merits of the case – do you have any actual liability.
  • Can suggest the proper strategy going forward.
  • Can provide you an estimate of the cost of defending the case and the time required.
  • Will help you plan for the discovery process and prepare for the “meet and confer” meeting.

Let’s look at some scenarios.

Scenario #1

You’re the General Counsel of a publicly traded software company in the state of California.

It’s a Friday near the end of summer and you’re sitting in your office thinking about your Hawaiian golf vacation which begins tomorrow.

You’re checking the last of your mail before you leave for 3 weeks.

You open a letter from an outside law firm addressed to you…

(Your secretary hears a string of profanities emanating from your office)

You immediately think to yourself; once this news gets out, your company’s stock will be hammered, your board of directors will want an update yesterday, your channel partners will want to be advised on their potential liability, sales that are in process will stop, your CEO will want to know if the case has merit…and your wife will want to know why you just cancelled the Hawaiian vacation she was looking forward to (she was staying home).

What to do first?

You call the plaintiff’s law firm of Tolson & Yonamine to determine what this case is based on…what’s driving it. The Partner managing the case can’t be reached but 2 hours later you receive a fax (a fax, really?) of a printed email that looks like it came from within your company…

What the…? Who, in their right mind would seriously consider something like this much less put it in writing?

Ok, first things first. Your next steps are:

  • Find out who “Jennifer” is, who she reports to and what department she work in. Also find out if she is even still with the company
  • Call the VP of IT and let her know what’s going on and verbally tell her to secure any infrastructure data from Jennifer or Bob
  • Follow that up by sending an email to the VP of IT asking her to secure Jennifer and Bob’s email boxes, and any backup tapes for their respective email servers
  • Send an email to Jennifer informing her of the litigation hold, her duties under it and the consequences if the directions are not followed
  • Send an email to Bob informing him of the litigation hold, his duties under it and the consequences if the directions are not followed
  • Instruct  the VP of IT via email to find the original of the email in question on the email servers or backup tapes

To complicate matters, the VP of IT calls back immediately to tell you that the company only keeps backup tapes of the email servers for 30 days and are then recycled. She also informs you that the company has a 90 day email retention policy meaning that employees must clear emails older than 90 days out of their mailbox or the company will do it automatically. Copies of those emails, if they exist, will only be available on the employee’s local workstations. You think to yourself; if that’s the case, how did the outside law firm get them?

You send one of your staff attorneys and an IT person to both Bob and Jennifer’s offices to look for a copy of the email on their local computers etc.

Later, you find that Bob has a 3 GB PST, local personal email archive, on his laptop where the email might exist but for some reason the IT guy can’t open it. IT calls Microsoft support and is told that the PST is too big and is no doubt irrevocably corrupted.

In the mean time, one of your staff attorneys spends 4.5 hours at Jennifer’s office and eventually finds a copy of the email in her local PST… the email really does exist…%$#@!!. She has no idea why she would have written something like that and there are no records of any other emails associated with that particular smoking gun email. Because the email in question is older than the company’s oldest email server backup tapes, your early case assessment is stopped dead for lack of data.

Now what?

After several months of negotiating with ABC Systems and their law firm, you settle for damages of $35 million and an apology published in the business section of the San Jose Mercury News.

In the preceding scenario, the available early case assessment process suggested that the case might have merit and should be settled before more resources were expended. In this case, the early case assessment was negatively impacted by a shortage of data due to retention policies that were put into place mainly for storage management reasons.

Having access to all relevant information early on can mean the difference between fighting a winnable case and settling the case early for hopefully much less then is being asked for. An early case assessment strategy with the right tools can improve the odds of a favorable outcome.

Early Case Assessment with Proactive ESI Archiving

Let’s look at the preceding scenario with one difference… the defendant has an ESI archiving system and a more common sense retention policy which in this case includes a 3 year retention policy for email.

You are the General Counsel of a publicly traded software company in California

It’s a Friday near the end of summer and you are sitting in your office thinking about your Hawaiian golf vacation which begins tomorrow

You open the last of your mail before you leave for 3 weeks

You open a letter from an outside law firm…

This can’t be real. This must be a joke from your $*@$!! Brother-in-law. After calling him and determining it’s not a joke you think to yourself; NOW WHAT?

You call the opposing counsel to determine what this case is based on. The partner managing the case can’t be reached but 2 hours later you receive a fax showing a printed email that looks like it came from within your company…

Next, you must place a litigation hold on all potentially responsive records

  • Find out who “Jennifer” is, who she reports to and what department she work in. Also, is she even still with the company
  • Call the VP of IT and let her know what’s going on
  • Instruct one of your staff attorneys to query the email archive to determine if that specific email exists, and to provide the entire conversation thread around that email so you can review it for intent.

Your staff attorney quickly queries the archive and pulls up a copy of the email message with the entire conversation thread, puts the entire conversation thread on litigation hold and sends you the following email…

“Boss, the email in question was based on the following conversation thread starting with the CEO:”

“Based on the early case assessment using the email archive and the conversation thread capability, I found that the “smoking gun” email was taken out of context and can prove the case has no merit…We should talk to opposing counsel as soon as possible to end this now.”

You think to yourself; whatever person’s idea it was to get that email archiving system in place should be given a load of stock options…

You spend the next morning talking to the opposing counsel…the action is withdrawn a month later…

You continue with your golf vacation having only missed two days and your wife is especially happy you were able to go on your vacation (alone).

An important aspect of an early case assessment is to tell you if the case has merit. It’s difficult to make an informed assessment about a case without all the data…

Accidental Data Deletion Still Considered Spoliation


From an article posted to the Infosecurity-us.com website yesterday:

When litigation-based data management isn’t taken seriously dire consequences will occur.

When it comes to electronic discovery, if you fail to protect potentially relevant data and it’s destroyed, no matter the excuse, you have deprived the other side of their right to all relevant evidence to support their case and subsequently put them at a disadvantage.

What are your responsibilities when it comes to securing data that could be used against you in a current or future civil lawsuit? Judges today have little sympathy for accidental or shoddy data handling practices when it comes to protecting and turning over data in litigation.

Controlling your company’s information at all times is crucial if, or when, you get dragged into civil litigation. What is eDiscovery? Well, it’s not an afterhours team-building exercise. Electronic discovery (also called eDiscovery or Discovery) refers to any process (in any country) in which electronic data is sought, located, secured, and searched with the intent of using it as evidence in a civil or criminal legal case. The eDiscovery process can be carried out offline on a particular computer or it can be accomplished on a corporate network.

Since the new amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) were adopted in December 2006, judges expect that organizations in eDiscovery have complete control of their organization’s data and can fully respond to an eDiscovery request in days or weeks, not months or years.

The entire article can be read here

“Free to the public cloud storage” – Becareful…


In a recent blog posting titled “The coming collision of “free to the public cloud storage” and eDiscovery”. I mentioned some of the potential gotchas involved in storing your ESI with these cloud services. One of the cloud storage services I named was the Dropbox service.

On Friday the Dropbox cloud storage start-up announced changes to its policies, claiming it had rights to your data stored on its service.

The original section read: “You grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service.”

This message obviously started a major reaction so the company has revisited its terms again, being forced to update its blog twice in order to try and calm the storm surrounding its policy.

The last two blog updates are below:

[Update – 7/2] – We asked for your feedback and we’ve been listening. As a result, we’ve clarified our language on licensing:

You retain ownership to your stuff. You are also solely responsible for your conduct, the content of your files and folders, and your communications with others while using the Services.

We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.

[Update 2 – 7/2] – An update based on your feedback:

One of the main reasons we updated our terms of service was to make them easier to read and understand. It seems we’ve mostly accomplished that, which we’re thrilled about.

Some of you have written us with very understandable concerns about the legal-sounding parts. In particular, our new TOS talks about the licenses we need to run Dropbox. We want to be 100% clear that you own what you put in your Dropbox. We don’t own your stuff. And the license you give us is really limited. It only allows us to provide the service to you. Nothing else.

We think it’s really important that you understand the license. It’s about the permissions you give us to run the service, things like creating public links when you ask us to, allowing you to collaborate with colleagues in shared folders, generating web previews or thumbnails of your files, encrypting files, creating backups… the basic things that make Dropbox safe and easy to use. Services like Google Docs and others do the same thing when they get these permissions (see, for example, section 11.1 of Google’s TOS).

We wish we didn’t have to use legal terms at all, but copyright law is complicated and if we don’t get these permissions in writing, we might be putting ourselves in a tough spot down the road. Not to bore you with the details, but please take a look at the license term in the TOS. We think it’s fair and strikes the right balance: “This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services.”

We want to thank everybody who wrote in, understanding your concerns helps us make Dropbox better.

Drew & Arash

It looks to me that they made a decent and honest attempt to come back from a really unsettling policy change. The main point here is that you have to understand the policies which manage your data on these services.

One practice I employ when using these services is to encrypt the data I upload to these services using applications such as TrueCrypt or PGP (see my blog on this topic). This practice does remove some of the capabilities such as indexing for search on the cloud service but the main reason I utilize these cloud storage offerings is to to be able to access my data anywhere from any computer.

Does Exchange 2010 have eDiscovery Defensibility?


One question I get asked a lot lately at webinars and seminars is; doesn’t Microsoft Exchange have all the tools I need to respond to a Discovery request? In other words can you rely on Exchange 2010 discovery capability for defensible search and litigation hold? Depending on who you talk to the answer can be yes or no.

Now don’t get me wrong, Microsoft has made great strides on its eDiscovery capability over the last several years with Exchange 2007 and 2010. But there is at least one major question to ask yourself when considering if Exchange 2010 has the capabilities, by itself, to respond to a eDiscovery request. That question is; can I respond to a email discovery request quickly and completely enough to satisfy the opposing counsel and Judge in a defensible manner?

One potential problem I’ve run across is a question of completeness of the eDiscovery search capability in Exchange 2010. Can you rely on it to produce the search results so that 1, all potentially responsive ESI can be found and placed on a litigation hold and 2, does the results set you eventually end up with contain all potentially responsive ESI?

Exchange 2010 comes with a default package of what Microsoft terms as iFilters. These iFilters allow Exchange to index specific file types in email attachments. This default iFilter pack (a description of which can be seen here) must be installed when Exchanger server 2010 is installed. This default iFilter pack includes the following file types:

.ascx, .asm, .asp, .aspx, .bat, .c, .cmd, .cpp, .cxx, .def, .dic, .doc, .docx, .dot, .h, .hhc, .hpp, .htm, .html, .htw, .htx, .hxx, .ibq, .idl, .inc, .inf, .ini, .inx, .js, .log, .m3u, .mht, .odc, .one, .pl, .pot, .ppt, .pptx, .rc, .reg, .rtf, .stm, .txt, .url, .vbs, .wtx, .xlc, .xls, .xlsb, .xlsx, .xlt, .xml, .zip

An obvious missing file type is the Adobe Acrobat .pdf extension. Many/most eDiscovery professionals will tell you that PDF files make up a sizable share of potentially responsive ESI in discovery. What if your IT department didn’t know about this limitation and never installed a separate iFilter for Adobe Acrobat files? What if your legal department didn’t know of this missing capability?

Your discovery searches would not be returning responsive PDF files causing major risk in both litigation hold and your overall discovery response.

Another question in reference to the Exchange 2010 Abobe Acrobat search capability is the effectiveness of the search. In a WindowsITPro article from last year titled Exchange Search Indexing and the problem with PDFs, Or “Why I hate Adobe with the Burning Passion of 10,000 Suns”, Paul Robichaux writes:

This test provided an unsatisfying result. I don’t feel like I found or fixed the problem; I just identified it more closely. Telling my users, “Sure, you can search attachments in Exchange, unless they happen to be PDFs, but then again maybe not,” isn’t what I had in mind. I hope that Adobe fixes its IFilter to work properly; it’s a shame that Adobe’s poor implementation is making Exchange search look bad.”

Corporate attorneys in organizations using Exchange 2007 and 2010 as their email system should immediately ask their IT departments about their system’s ability to index and search PDF files.

Attorneys on the other side of the table should be asking defense counsel the status of their Exchange 2007/2010 Adobe Acrobat search and litigation hold capability.

Court Reviews Plaintiff’s Facebook Account to Identify Material Subject to Discovery


Offenback v. L.M. Bowman, Inc., No. 1:10-CV-1789, 2011 WL 2491371 (M.D. Pa. June 22, 2011)

From eDiscoverylaw.com

In this case arising from a car accident which the plaintiff claimed resulted in physical and psychological injuries, the parties invited the court to conduct a review of Plaintiff’s social networking accounts “in order to determine whether certain information containedwithin Plaintiff’s accountsis properly subject to discovery.” Using Plaintiff’s log-in information, the court reviewed Plaintiff’s Facebook account, including “a thorough review of Plaintiff’s ‘Profile’ postings, photographs, and other information.” (Plaintiff’s MySpace account was not searched asit hadnot been accessed since November 2008 and Plaintiff could not locatethe log-in information.) The court then identified potentially relevant information to be produced, including, for example, photos and updates indicating recent motorcycle trips and “photographs and comments suggesting that he may have recently ridden a mule.” In finding that some of the “public information contained in Plaintiff’s account is properly subject to limited discovery in this case,” the court noted Plaintiff’s acknowledgment that “limited [relevant] ‘public’ information is clearly discoverable under recent case law.”

The court closed this opinion with a footnote expressing its “confusion” as to why its assistance was required in this instance and reasoning that because Plaintiff was most familiar with his own account, “it would have been substantially more efficient for Plaintiff to have conducted this initial review and then, if he deemed it warranted, to object to disclosure of some or all of the potentially responsive information.” The court acknowledged that the “scope of discovery into social media sites ‘requires the application of basic discovery principles in a novel context’” and that “the challenge is to ‘define appropriately broad limits … on the discovery ability of social communications,’” but reiterated its point that (subject to a properly narrow request) “it would have been both possible and proper for Plaintiff to have undertaken the initial review of his Facebook account to determine whether it contained responsive information” and to thereafter involve the court if a dispute remained as to whether that information was subject to production.

The full opinion can be see here