Emails considered “abandoned” if older than 180 days


The Electronic Communications Privacy Act – Part 1

Email Privacy

It turns out that those 30 day email retention policies I have been putting down for years may… actually be the best policy.

This may not be a surprise to some of you but the government can access your emails without a warrant by simply providing a statement (or subpoena) that the emails in question are relevant to an on-going federal case – criminal or civil.

This disturbing fact is legally justified through the misnamed Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 otherwise known as 18 U.S.C. § 2510-22.

There are some stipulations to the government gaining access to your email;

    • The email must be stored on a server, or remote storage (not an individual’s computer).This obviously targets Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo mail and others but what about corporate email administered by third parties, what about Outlook Web Access, remote workers that VPN into their corporate email servers, PSTs saved on cloud storage…
    • The emails must have already been opened. Does Outlook auto-preview affect the state of “being read”?
    • The emails must be over 180 days old if unopened

The ECPA (remember it was written in 1986) starts with the premise that any email (electronic communication) stored on a server longer than 180 days had to be junk email and abandoned.  In addition, the assumption is that if you opened an email and left it on a “third-party” server for storage you were giving that “third-party” access to your mail and giving up any privacy interest you had which in reality is happening with several well-known email cloud providers (terms and conditions).  In 1986 the expectation was that you would download your emails to your local computer and then either delete it or print out a hard copy for record keeping.  So the rules put in place in 1986 made sense – unopened email less than 180 days old was still in transit and could be secured by the authorities only with a warrant (see below); opened email or mail stored for longer than 180 days was considered non-private or abandoned so the government could access it with a subpoena (an administrated request) – in effect, simply by asking for it.

Warrant versus Subpoena: (from Surveillance Self-Defense Web Site)

To get a warrant, investigators must go to a neutral and detached magistrate and swear to facts demonstrating that they have probable cause to conduct the search or seizure. There is probable cause to search when a truthful affidavit establishes that evidence of a crime will be probably be found in the particular place to be searched. Police suspicions or hunches aren’t enough — probable cause must be based on actual facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the police will find evidence of a crime.

In addition to satisfying the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause requirement, search warrants must satisfy the particularity requirement. This means that in order to get a search warrant, the police have to give the judge details about where they are going to search and what kind of evidence they are searching for. If the judge issues the search warrant, it will only authorize the police to search those particular places for those particular things.

Subpoenas are issued under a much lower standard than the probable cause standard used for search warrants. A subpoena can be used so long as there is any reasonable possibility that the materials or testimony sought will produce information relevant to the general subject of the investigation.

Subpoenas can be issued in civil or criminal cases and on behalf of government prosecutors or private litigants; often, subpoenas are merely signed by a government employee, a court clerk, or even a private attorney. In contrast, only the government can get a search warrant.

With all of the news stories about Edward Snowden and the NSA over the last year, this revelation brings up many questions for those of us in the eDiscovery, email archiving and cloud storage businesses.

In future blogs I will discuss these questions and others such as how does this effect “abandoned” email archives.

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Visualizing Hawaii: A GC’s Perspective Pt 2


Continued from yesterday…

Scenario #2 (using the same example from yesterday except your email retention policy is now 2 years and you have an Information Governance program that ensures all unstructured data is searchable and actively managed in place)

Its 1:52 pm on the Friday before you leave on a much anticipated 2 week vacation in Hawaii…yada, yada, yada

It’s a letter from the law offices of Lewis, Gonsowski & Tolson informing you that their client, ACME Systems, is suing your company for $225 million for conspiracy to harm ACME’s reputation and future sales by spreading false information about ACME’s newest product line. You’re told that the plaintiff has documentation (an email) from an ABC Systems employee outlining the conspiracy. You also receive a copy of the “smoking gun” email…

——-

From: Ted
Date: June 2, 2012
To: Rick

Re: Acme Systems new solutions

“I would say we need to spread as much miss-information and lies about their solution’s capabilities as possible.  We need to throw up as much FUD as we can when we talk to the analyst community to give us time to get our new application to market.  Maybe we can make up a lie about them stealing their IP from a Chinese company.” 

——-

Should I cancel the vacation? …Not yet

You call the VP of IT and ask her if she has the capability to pull an email from 13 months ago. She tells you she does have all of the emails going back two years but there are literally millions of them and it will take weeks to go through them.

You remember getting a demo from Recommind two weeks ago showing their On Demand Review and Analysis platform with a really neat capability to visualize data relationships. So you call up Recommind and setup a quick job.

IT starts the upload of the email data set to the Recommind Cloud platform.

You call your wife and ask her to delay the vacation until Monday…she’s not happy but it could have been worse.

The next morning (Saturday) you meet your team at the office and sign into the hosted eDiscovery platform and pull up the visualization module and run a search against the uploaded email data set for any mention of ACME Systems. Out of the 2 million emails you get hits on 889 emails.

You then ask the system to graphically show the messages by sender and recipient. You quickly find Ted and Rick and their email and even one from Rick to David… Interesting.

Within the hour you are able to assemble the entire conversation thread:

Email #1

From: CEO
Date: May 29, 2012
To: Sandra; Steve

Subject: Acme Systems new solutions

Please give some thought about what we should do to keep momentum going with our sales force in response to ACME Systems latest release of their new router. I can see our sales force getting discouraged with this new announcement.

Please get back to me with some ideas early next week.

Thanks Greg

Email #2

From: Steve
Date: May 29, 2012
To: Greg; Sandra

Re: Acme Systems new solutions

Greg, I will get with Sandra and others and brainstorm this topic no later than tomorrow and get back to you. Sandra, what times are good for you to get together?

Thanks Steve

 

Email #3

From: Sandra
Date: May 30, 2012
To: Ted

Re: Acme Systems new solutions

Ted, considering ACME’s new router announcement, how do you think we should counter their PR?

Thanks Sandra

 

Email #4

From: Ted
Date: June 1, 2012
To: Sandra; Bob

Re: Acme Systems new solutions

If it wasn’t illegal, I would suggest we need to spread as much misinformation about their new router as possible to the analyst community to create as mush FUD as we can to give us time to get our new solution out. Maybe we can make up a lie about them stealing their IP from a Chinese company.

But obviously that’s illegal (right?). Anyway…I suggest we highlight our current differentiators and produce a roadmap showing how and when we will catch and surpass them.

Regards Ted

 

Email #5

From: Rick
Date: June 1, 2012
To: Ted

Re: Acme Systems new solutions

Ted, I heard you had a funny suggestion for what we should do about ACME’s new router… What did you say?

Thanks Bob

 

Email #6 (The incriminating email)

From: Ted
Date: June 2, 2012
To:  Rick

Re: ACME Systems new solutions

“I would say we need to spread as much miss-information and lies about their solution’s capabilities as possible.  We need to throw up as much FUD as we can when we talk to the analyst community to give us time to get our new application to market.  Maybe we can make up a lie about them stealing their IP from a Chinese company.”

It looks like I will make the flight Monday morning after all…

The moral of the story

Circumstances often dictate the need for additional technical capabilities and experience levels to be acquired – quickly. The combination of rising levels of litigation, skyrocketing volumes of information being stored, tight budgets, short deadlines, resource constraints, and extraordinary legal considerations can put many organizations involved in litigation at a major disadvantage.

The relentless growth of data, especially unstructured data, is swamping many organizations. Employees create and receive large amounts of data daily, a majority of it is email – and most of it is simply kept because employees don’t have the time to spend making a decision on each work document or email whether it rises to the level of a record or important business document that may be needed later. The ability to visualize large data sets provides users the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter quickly instead of looking at thousands of lines of text in a table.

Visualizing Hawaii: A GC’s Perspective or the Case of the Silent Wife


ABC Systems is a mid-size technology company based in the U.S. that designs and manufactures wireless routers…

Its 1:52 pm on the Friday before you leave on a much anticipated 2 week vacation in Hawaii. You’re having difficulty not thinking about what the next two weeks hold. You talk yourself into powering through the 176 emails you received since yesterday when you notice your administrative assistant has put an actual letter on your desk while you were daydreaming…

It’s a letter from the law offices of Lewis, Lewis & Tolson informing you that their client, ACME Systems, is suing your company for $225 million for conspiracy to harm ACME’s reputation and future sales by spreading false information about their newest product line. You’re told that the plaintiff has documentation (an email) from an ABC Systems employee outlining the conspiracy. You also receive a copy of the “smoking gun” email…

————
From: Ted                                                                                                                          

Date: June 2, 2012

To: Rick

Re: ACME Systems new solutions

“I would say we need to spread as much mis-information and lies about their solution’s capabilities as possible.  We need to throw up as much FUD as we can when we talk to the analyst community to give us time to get our new application to market.  Maybe we can make up a lie about them stealing their IP from a Chinese company.”

————

You’ve got to be kidding me! Once this news gets out the stock will be hit, the board will want an explanation and estimate of potential damage to the company reputation, our channel partners will want to have a legal opinion on the sales in the pipeline, the direct sales force will want a document to give to their potential customers, and the CEO will want estimates of merit etc. as soon as possible…There goes the vacation…and probably my marriage.

Scenario #1

Now what do I do now?

  1. Find out who this “Ted” guy is! (Don’t forget “Rick”)
  2. Find out who Ted and Rick reports to and what department they work in
  3. Call the VP of IT and give her a heads up on what you are going to be asking for
  4. Call your outside counsel and alert them as well
  5. Send an email to the VP of IT (and CC outside counsel) asking her to immediately secure Ted and Rick’s email accounts and any email backup tapes
  6. Send an email to Ted and Rick (and CC outside counsel) asking them to actively collect and secure under a litigation hold any documents and email that has anything to do with ABC Systems (strange thing is the email system has no one by the name of TED in it)
  7. Ask the VP of IT to find the original email from Ted to Rick and any other email messages involved in that conversation thread
  8. Get on the phone to the CEO and update him
  9. Call your wife and tell her to cancel the vacation plans

Five minutes after your wife hangs up on you in mid-sentence the VP of IT calls and informs you that the company has a 90 day email retention policy and recycles backup tapes every 6 months…the original emails don’t exist anymore. And by the way, after speaking to the VP of HR she discovered Ted had left the company 8 months ago. The only hope is that Rick kept local copies of his emails. By this time its 5:37 pm and Rick has gone home – with his laptop.

Monday morning Rick is surprised to find several people from legal and IT waiting at his desk when he arrives. It turns out Rick actually archives his email instead of letting the system delete it after 90 days into a PST file. Rick locates his 4.5 GB PST file on his share drive but for some reason it won’t open. Several members from the IT department spend two hours trying to get it open but determine its probably corrupted because its too big (PSTs have this nasty habit of letting the user keep stuffing files into it even though its already too big).

IT sends the PST off to a consultant to see if they can open it. After three weeks and $17,553 you are told it’s completely corrupted and can’t be opened!

During those three weeks you spend $4,300 tracking down Ted who doesn’t remember why he would have written an email like that. He does vaguely remember Jennifer may have been part of that conversation thread. 4.5 hours later combing through Jennifer’s PST, (why does everyone have a PST if we made a point to delete emails after 90 days?) you actually find a forwarded version of the email from Ted…It really does exist!

You determine it will be impossible to assemble the entire conversation thread so after several months of negotiating with ACME Systems Attorneys, you settle for $35 million and an apology printed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal…and your wife stopped talking to you.

Tune in tomorrow to catch up on the further adventures of Ted, Rick, Jennifer, ABC Systems, and the strangely silent wife…

Ask the Magic 8-Ball; “Is Predictive Defensible Disposal Possible?”


The Good Ole Days of Paper Shredding

In my early career, shred days – the scheduled annual activity where the company ordered all employees to wander through all their paper records to determine what should be disposed of, were common place. At the government contractor I worked for, we actually wheeled our boxes out to the parking lot to a very large truck that had huge industrial shredders in the back. Once the boxes of documents were shredded, we were told to walk them over to a second truck, a burn truck, where we, as the records custodian, would actually verify that all of our records were destroyed. These shred days were a way to actually collect, verify and yes physically shred all the paper records that had gone beyond their retention period over the preceding year.

The Magic 8-Ball says Shred Days aren’t Defensible

Nowadays, this type of activity carries some negative connotations with it and is much more risky. Take for example the recent case of Rambus vs SK Hynix. In this case U.S District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose reversed his own prior ruling from a 2009 case where he had originally issued a judgment against SK Hynix, awarding Rambus Inc. $397 million in a patent infringement case. In his reversal this year, Judge Whyte ruled that Rambus Inc. had spoliated documents in bad faith when it hosted company-wide “shred days” in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Judge Whyte found that Rambus could have reasonably foreseen litigation against Hynix as early as 1998, and that therefore Rambus engaged in willful spoliation during the three “shred days” (a finding of spoliation can be based on inadvertent destruction of evidence as well). Because of this recent spoliation ruling, the Judge reduced the prior Rambus award from $397 million to $215 million, a cost to Rambus of $182 million.

Another well know example of sudden retention/disposition policy activity that caused unintended consequences is the Arthur Andersen/Enron example. During the Enron case, Enron’s accounting firm sent out the following email to some of its employees:

This email was a key reason why Arthur Andersen ceased to exist shortly after the case concluded. Arthur Andersen was charged with and found guilty of obstruction of justice for shredding the thousands of documents and deleting emails and company files that tied the firm to its audit of Enron. Less than 1 year after that email was sent, Arthur Andersen surrendered its CPA license on August 31, 2002, and 85,000 employees lost their jobs.

Learning from the Past – Defensible Disposal

These cases highlight the need for a true information governance process including a truly defensible disposal capability. In these instances, an information governance process would have been capturing, indexing, applying retention policies, protecting content on litigation hold and disposing of content beyond the retention schedule and not on legal hold… automatically, based on documented and approved legally defensible policies. A documented and approved process which is consistently followed and has proper safeguards goes a long way with the courts to show good faith intent to manage content and protect that content subject to anticipated litigation.

To successfully automate the disposal of unneeded information in a consistently defensible manner, auto-categorization applications must have the ability to conceptually understand the meaning in unstructured content so that only content meeting your retention policies, regardless of language, is classified as subject to retention.

Taking Defensible Disposal to the Next Level – Predictive Disposition

A defensible disposal solution which incorporates the ability to conceptually understand content meaning, and which incorporates an iterative training process including “train by example,” in a human supervised workflow provides accurate predictive retention and disposition automation.

Moving away from manual, employee-based information governance to automated information retention and disposition with truly accurate (95 to 99%) and consistent meaning-based predictive information governance will provide the defensibility that organizations require today to keep their information repositories up to date.

Finding the Cure for the Healthcare Unstructured Data Problem


Healthcare information/ and records continue to grow with the introduction of new devices and expanding regulatory requirements such as The Affordable Care Act, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). In the past, healthcare records were made up of mostly paper forms or structured billing data; relatively easy to categorize, store, and manage.  That trend has been changing as new technologies enable faster and more convenient ways to share and consume medical data.

According to an April 9, 2013 article on ZDNet.com, by 2015, 80% of new healthcare information will be composed of unstructured information; information that’s much harder to classify and manage because it doesn’t conform to the “rows & columns” format used in the past. Examples of unstructured information include clinical notes, emails & attachments, scanned lab reports, office work documents, radiology images, SMS, and instant messages.

Who or what is going to actually manage this growing mountain of unstructured information?

To insure regulatory compliance and the confidentiality and security of this unstructured information, the healthcare industry will have to 1) hire a lot more professionals to manually categorize and mange it or 2) acquire technology to do it automatically.

Looking at the first solution; the cost to have people manually categorize and manage unstructured information would be prohibitively expensive not to mention slow. It also exposes private patient data to even more individuals.  That leaves the second solution; information governance technology. Because of the nature of unstructured information, a technology solution would have to:

  1. Recognize and work with hundreds of data formats
  2. Communicate with the most popular healthcare applications and data repositories
  3. Draw conceptual understanding from “free-form” content so that categorization can be accomplished at an extremely high accuracy rate
  4. Enable proper access security levels based on content
  5. Accurately retain information based on regulatory requirements
  6. Securely and permanently dispose of information when required

An exciting emerging information governance technology that can actually address the above requirements uses the same next generation technology the legal industry has adopted…proactive information governance technology based on conceptual understanding of content,  machine learning and iterative “train by example” capabilities

Next Generation Technologies Reduce FOIA Bottlenecks


Federal agencies are under more scrutiny to resolve issues with responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The Freedom of Information Act provides for the full disclosure of agency records and information to the public unless that information is exempted under clearly delineated statutory language. In conjunction with FOIA, the Privacy Act serves to safeguard public interest in informational privacy by delineating the duties and responsibilities of federal agencies that collect, store, and disseminate personal information about individuals. The procedures established ensure that the Department of Homeland Security fully satisfies its responsibility to the public to disclose departmental information while simultaneously safeguarding individual privacy.

In February of this year, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee opened a congressional review of executive branch compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The committee sent a six page letter to the Director of Information Policy at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Melanie Ann Pustay. In the letter, the committee questions why, based on a December 2012 survey, 62 of 99 government agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations and processes which was required by Attorney General Eric Holder in a 2009 memorandum. In fact the Attorney General’s own agency have not updated their regulations and processes since 2003.

The committee also pointed out that there are 83,000 FOIA request still outstanding as of the writing of the letter.

In fairness to the federal agencies, responding to a FOIA request can be time-consuming and expensive if technology and processes are not keeping up with increasing demands. Electronic content can be anywhere including email systems, SharePoint servers, file systems, and individual workstations. Because content is spread around and not usually centrally indexed, enterprise wide searches for content do not turn up all potentially responsive content. This means a much more manual, time consuming process to find relevant content is used.

There must be a better way…

New technology can address the collection problem of searching for relevant content across the many storage locations where electronically stored information (ESI) can reside. For example, an enterprise-wide search capability with “connectors” into every data repository, email, SharePoint, file systems, ECM systems, records management systems allows all content to be centrally indexed so that an enterprise wide keyword search will find all instances of content with those keywords present. A more powerful capability to look for is the ability to search on concepts, a far more accurate way to search for specific content. Searching for conceptually comparable content can speed up the collection process and drastically reduce the number of false positives in the results set while finding many more of the keyword deficient but conceptually responsive records. In conjunction with concept search, automated classification/categorization of data can reduce search time and raise accuracy.

The largest cost in responding to a FOIA request is in the review of all potentially relevant ESI found during collection. Another technology that can drastically reduce the problem of having to review thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of documents for relevancy and privacy currently used by attorneys for eDiscovery is Predictive Coding.

Predictive Coding is the process of applying machine learning and iterative supervised learning technology to automate document coding and prioritize review. This functionality dramatically expedites the actual review process while dramatically improving accuracy and reducing the risk of missing key documents. According to a RAND Institute for Civil Justice report published in 2012, document review cost savings of 80% can be expected using Predictive Coding technology.

With the increasing number of FOIA requests swamping agencies, agencies are hard pressed to catch up to their backlogs. The next generation technologies mentioned above can help agencies reduce their FOIA related costs while decreasing their response time.

Do organizations really have formal information disposal processes…I think NOT!


Do organizations really have formal information disposal processes…I think NOT!

Do organizations regularly dispose of information in a systematic, documented manner? If the answer is “sure we do”, do they do it via a standardized and documented process or “just leave it to the employees”?

If they don’t…who cares – storage is cheap!

When I ask customers if they have a formal information disposal process, 70 to 80 percent of the time the customer will answer “yes” but when pressed on their actual process, I almost always hear one of the following:

1.    We have mailbox limits, so employees have to delete emails when they reach their mailbox limit
2.    We tell our employees to delete content after 1,2, or 3 years
3.    We store our records (almost always paper) at Iron Mountain and regularly send deletion requests

None of these answers rise to an information governance and disposal process. Mailbox limits only force employees into stealth archiving, i.e. movement of content out of the organization’s direct control. Instructing employees to delete information without enforcement and auditing is as good as not telling them to do anything at all. And storing paper records at Iron Mountain does not address the 95%+ of the electronic data which resides in organizations.

Data center storage is not cheap. Sure, I can purchase 1 TB of external disk at a local electronics store for $150 but that 1 TB is not equal to 1 TB of storage in a corporate data center. It also doesn’t include annual support agreements, the cost of allocated floor space, the cost of power and cooling, or IT resource overhead including nightly backups. Besides, the cost of storage is not the biggest cost organizations who don’t actively manage their information face.

The astronomical costs arise when considering litigation and eDiscovery. A recent RAND survey highlighted the fact that it can cost $18,000 to review 1 GB of information for eDiscovery. And considering many legal cases include the collection and review of terabytes of information, you can imagine the average cost per case can be in the millions of dollars.

So what’s the answer? First, don’t assume information is cheap to keep. Data center storage and IT resources are not inexpensive, take human resources to keep up and running, and consume floor space. Second, information has legal risk and cost associated with it. The collection and review of information for responsiveness is time consuming and expensive. The legal risks associated with unmanaged information can be even more costly. Imagine your organization is sued. One of the first steps in responding to the suit is to find and secure all potentially responsive data. What would happen if you didn’t find all relevant data and it was later discovered you didn’t turn over some information that could have helped the other side’s case? The Judge can overturn an already decided case, issue an adverse inference, assign penalties etc. The withholding or destruction of evidence is never good and always costs the losing side a lot more.

The best strategy is to put policies, processes and automation in place to manage all electronic data as it occurs and to dispose of data deemed not required anymore. One solution is to put categorization software in place to index, understand and categorize content in real time by the conceptual meaning of the content.  Sophisticated categorization can also find, tag and automatically dispose of information that doesn’t need to be kept anymore.  Given the amount of information created daily, automating the process is the only definitive way to answer ‘yes we have a formal information disposal process’.