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’.

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Hiding from eDiscovery in Plain Sight


QR or “quick response” Codes have been showing up a lot more in the last year. A QR code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, also readable by mobile phones with a camera, tablet computers with built-in camera including iPads, and smartphones including iPhones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on white background. The information encoded can be a text message, a SMS message, a URL, an email reply or several other types of data. The QR code in the top left corner of this blog is the QR code for the URL for the eDiscovery101.net blog site.

QR codes are increasingly gaining acceptance in United States business and end user mind share, though they have been popular in some Asian countries for many years.

So what do QR codes have to do with eDiscovery? A friend of mine was telling me about a new business he had started using QR codes in a very unique way and it occurred to me to wonder if eDiscovery collection and review applications would be able to recognize data encoded into QR codes and if not, how could custodians use QR codes to pass information they didn’t want to be found in an eDiscovery process. For example, could you email information to others without calling attention to yourself by using encryption or have the content indexed and flagged by eDiscovery applications?

The answer is absolutely…

Look at the following email example:

The QR code embedded in the email message is simply a link to the URL for this blog site. To connect to this site you would start up your free QR code scanner on your iPhone and it would automatically link you to the site. If the above email was part of the email corpus in an energy price manipulation case, would it be flagged for any suspicious activity?

But the main point is when collecting and running millions of emails through eDiscovery software, QR codes, as far as I can tell, would not be readable and index-able by any known eDiscovery software.

Now take a look at the email message again:

If you were to scan the above QR code with your free QR code scanner, you would see the following:

As you can see, a great deal of text can be embed in a QR code that is readable by a free QR scanner pointed at a printout or even your computer display.

Is the above example a reasonable way to pass information that you don’t want caught by eDiscovery processes? Not really…an easier way would be to call someone and give them the message verbally but I wanted to point out that eDiscovery search and review applications are not 100% effective and custodians can beat them if they really try. eDiscovery vendors need to be constantly on the lookout for these new techniques of sending and receiving ESI.

Will Spoliation Insurance Change How Judges Rule?


On Dec.2 2010, the Lexington Insurance Company started selling a new product–spoliation insurance. No, spoliation is not misspelled, and no, it’s not a witty descriptor for what’s likely to happen inside the office break room refrigerator before the end of the holidays. Spoliation is a legal term for the destruction of evidence in civil litigation matters. And this form of insurance protects you in the event a judge imposes fines or penalties because of lost evidence or other eDiscovery failures.

Why might you need spoliation insurance? Well, Duke University conducted a recent study finding 97 eDiscovery sanction cases in 2009, more than any prior year. These are cases where the judge has determined one of the parties destroyed evidence and now must determine a penalty for this destruction of evidence.

Some questions that come to mind for me:

  1. Does having spoliation insurance mean the discoveree can exercise less care with his records information management (RIM) program, litigation hold, or discovery processes because they don’t have to worry about a fine or penalty?
  2. Is the fact that you have spoliation insurance discoverable?
  3. Would the fact that you have spoliation insurance alter the ruling by the judge? (Would the judge, for instance, impose a higher fine or penalty to hammer the insurance company?)

Obviously, spoliation insurance will not affect whether your organization wins or loses the case. Also, I would expect insurance companies to set premiums to reflect their risk. If the insured has an effective RIM program and processes to find and protect responsive electronically stored information easily, insurers should lower premiums for these buyers over other applicants with questionable or no processes or other tools.

The next question that comes to mind is: Do you need spoliation insurance if your organization has prepared for effective eDiscovery by creating RIM policies, training employees on responsibilities and processes, and acquiring technology like an archive to better control ESI?

Now, the answer to this question is pretty commonsensical. Invest in responsible processes and training as well as the best tools/automation for RIM and eDiscovery, and you likely won’t need spoliation insurance.

The ABA Journal had a story on spoliation insurance on March 1, 2011. The ABA Journal article can be viewed here.

Did you hear the one about the Attorney who thought “Social Media” was a dating website for singles over 40?


A definition of the term social media from Merriam-Webster states “forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.”

Another definition of “social media” from online matters reads “Social media is any form of online publication or presence that allows end users to engage in multi-directional conversations in or around the content on the website.”

Examples of social media include facebook, myspace, LinkedIn, twitter, YouTube, and WordPress (free blogging site) among many, many others. Social media is not limited to desktop computers either. Cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, iPhones and iPads are popular examples of mobile devices which can be connected to social media capabilities.

How popular is social media these days?

Facebook: 750 million plus active users (July 2011). Users spend over 700 billion minutes per month on facebook.

Twitter: 175 million total Twitter accounts, 119 million Twitter accounts following one or more other accounts (March 2011) with 177 million tweets sent in one day on M arch 11, 2011

LinkedIn: 100 million users (March 2011)

Based on the above numbers, the social media phenomenon has become a major source of electronic data which in turn means a major target in litigation.

Social media content as a source of evidence in civil litigation has become a popular topic in legal magazines, blogs, twitter posts and other information sources. There are several challenges around social media content from the employee’s point of view and its use in litigation. Individuals tend to view social media content the same way they thought about emails and voicemails years ago – transitory, something that was private and didn’t exist for long anyway. People are shocked that potential employers are looking at the individual’s public facebook page, twitter postings or LinkedIn profile to get a better idea of a job candidate’s background or when police view the same content to help build a case against someone.

“Seriously officer, I wasn’t at that party where someone got shot…I was visiting my grandmother in Fresno”

“Really?… then how come there’s a picture of you at the party holding a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a Glock 9mm in the other hand?”

Does an employer have a right to an employee’s social media content? Some qualifying questions to determine this  would be:

  1. Has the employee mixed personal and business related content in their social media activity?
  2. Was the employee’s social media activity initiated from within the organization’s infrastructure or using their equipment?

In a 2010 US District Court decision, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Simply Storage Management, L.L.C. and O.B. Management Services, the defendant, Simply Storage, sought to discover from  two employees claiming sexual harassment against their supervisors, all photographs and videos posted to their Facebook and My Space accounts, electronic copies, or alternatively hard copies, of their profiles which includes updates, messages, wall comments, causes/groups joined, activity streams, blog entries, blurbs, comments and applications. The EEOC objected to production on the grounds that the request was overbroad, not relevant, unduly burdensome, and improperly infringed on privacy and compliance would harass and embarrass the claimants. Simply Storage defended the request arguing that the claimants’ had put their emotional health at issue implicating all their social communications.

The Court ruled that the EEOC must produce relevant Social Networking Sites (SNS) communications in accordance with its guidelines noting first that SNS content is not shielded from discovery simply because it is locked or private.

In another case, TEKsystems, Inc. v. Hammernick et al., No 0:10-cv-00819, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, is the first-known restrictive covenant lawsuit regarding allegedly unlawful conduct via social media (in this case, LinkedIn).

When Hammernick’s employment with TEKsystems ended, she went to work for Horizontal Integration, Inc., also an IT staffing firm. The complaint alleges that, after her employment with TEKsystems ended, Hammernick unlawfully communicated, on behalf of Horizontal Integration, with at least twenty “Contract Employees” via LinkedIn, the premiere social networking website used for business and professional purposes.

The allegations against Hammernick list, by name, the sixteen Contract Employees that she allegedly “connected” with on LinkedIn, in violation of her employment agreement with TEKsystems. This case raises the legal question whether merely “connecting” with professional contacts via professional networking websites constitutes a violation of a restrictive covenant prohibiting such “solicitation” or “contact.” Does the mere existence of a network of professional contacts equal solicitation? Will compliance with a non-solicitation restriction require individuals to “disconnect” or “de-friend” colleagues, customers, or clients of former employers until the non-solicitation period expires?

Smartphones are a super highway into your private social media content

Recently, California’s Supreme Court reached a controversial 5-2 decision in People v. Diaz (PDF), holding that police officers may lawfully search mobile phones found on arrested individuals’ persons without first obtaining a search warrant. The court reasoned that mobile phones, like cigarette packs and wallets, fall under the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Do you have a Twitter app or LinkedIn app on your smart phone? Does it automatically enter your logon and password when you start the app? If they do then law enforcement could take a look at you private facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts.

Also be aware, if you voluntarily disclose or enter your mobile phone password in response to police interrogation, any evidence of illegal activity found on (or by way of) your phone is admissible in court, regardless of whether or not you’ve been Mirandized.

Its obvious social media is a new speed bump in the eDiscovery landscape. Employers need to create policies to address their concerns and educate their employees about these policies and the consequences of not following them.

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

The Four Factor Test for Employee Expectation of Privacy


On May 23, in SEC v. Reserve Management Co. Inc.,the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that an employee does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to communications with a spouse through an employer’s email system. In reaching its decision, the court used the four-part test from In re Asia Global Crossing Ltd to determine if the employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy. A key point in this analysis was the presence and actual notice to employees of an email policy that both forbade personal communications and warned employees of possible disclosure of company-controlled email communications. A write up of this outcome from the National Law Review can be viewed here.

Several cases have afforded protection to employees who may reasonably have expected privacy when using company IT systems. In Asia Global Crossing, the court set forth a four-factor test to assess the reasonableness of an employee’s privacy expectation in personal email transmitted through a corporate email system. The Asia Global Crossing test is composed of four basic questions:

  1. Does the company maintain a policy banning personal content or other objectionable use?
  2. Does the company monitor the use of the employee’s computer or email?
  3. Do third parties have a right of access to the computer or emails?
  4. Did the company notify the employee, or was the employee aware, of the use and monitoring policies?

If all four questions can be answered in the affirmative, then the employee should have no expectation of privacy.

This four factor test has been adopted by a number of courts faced with the task of determining the reasonableness of privacy expectations. As the Reserve Management court pointed out, “the cases in this area tend to be highly fact-specific and the outcomes are largely determined by the particular policy language adopted by the employer.”

Further questions that should be considered when putting one of these policies together:

  • Does the company maintain a policy banning personal content or other objectionable use?
    • Is the policy written down?
    • How often is it updated?
    • Was the policy communicated to employees?
    • How was it communicated?
    • Can employees find it if they want to?
    • Was the policy reviewed by legal staff?
  • Does the company monitor the use of the employee’s computer or email?
    • Did the company explain to the employees that the company and other legal entities has a right to access and review employee email?
    • How was this communicated?
  • Do third parties have a right of access to the computer or emails?
    • Was this explained to all employees
    • How was it communicated to the employees?
  • Did the company notify the employee, or was the employee aware, of the use and monitoring policies?
    • How did the company notify the employees?
    • Does the company audit the policy?
    • Does the company enforce the policy?

Some of the added question detail above highlights intent. Is the company’s intention to not allow personal communications from their employees (usually not) or is the intent to educate the employees as to their lack of privacy if they choose to utilize the corporate email system for personal use?

This review serves to remind organizations of the importance of creating and training employees on well thought out “use policies”. A well thought out and comprehensive use policy that employees are not aware of is in reality, not a policy. Lastly, when creating and adopting these use policies, it is always a good practice to get acknowledgements from all employees as to their understanding of the use policy.

How easy is eDiscovery in SharePoint 2010?


There has been nagging questions surrounding SharePoint and its ability to allow complete and effective eDiscovery searches of all potentially responsive content in the repository. The below description is from the Microsoft Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Team Blog.

From the Microsoft blog:=================================================================

Hi everyone, I am Quentin Christensen and I work on document and records management functionality for SharePoint. Electronic discovery (commonly referred to as eDiscovery) is an area we are supporting with new set of capabilities in SharePoint Server 2010. In case you are not familiar with eDiscovery, it is the process of finding, preserving, analyzing and producing content in electronic formats as required by litigation or investigations. eDiscovery is an important concern for all of our customers and given that SharePoint has grown to be an integral part of collaboration, document, and records management for many organizations, we recognize the need to support the eDiscovery process for SharePoint content.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 included a hold feature that could be used for eDiscovery, but it was scoped to the Records Center site template. With SharePoint Server 2010 the eDiscovery capabilities have been greatly expanded to provide more functionality and the power to use these features across your entire SharePoint deployment.

In this post, I want to highlight three major improvements in SharePoint that support eDiscovery. You can:

  • Manage holds and conduct eDiscovery searches on any site collection
  • Use SharePoint Server Search or FAST Search for SharePoint out of box to search and process content
  • Automatically copy eDiscovery search results to a separate repository for further analysis

Read on to learn how SharePoint Server 2010 can support your eDiscovery initiatives and provide you with the tools you need to manage holds, identify, and collect SharePoint content.

The eDiscovery Process

The Electronic Discovery Reference Model from EDRM (edrm.net) provides an overview of the different parts of the eDiscovery process:

imageSharePoint Sever 2010 addresses the Information Management, Identification, Preservation and Collection stages. While this blog post will focus mostly on the identification, preservation and collection components, SharePoint provides a rich Information Management platform for Collaboration, Social Computing, Document Management and Records Management.  This means that you can take a proactive approach to eDiscovery by putting a governance framework in place and using appropriate disposition policies to expire content. Managing content and deleting it when it is no longer needed will reduce the amount of content that must be indexed and searched, and collected for eDiscovery.  The result is that eDiscovery costs can be dramatically reduced, changing the problem from finding a needle in a hay stack to finding a needle in a hay bale. Ultimately, the key to achieving legal compliance for eDiscovery obligations is built upon a foundation of robust Information Management.

When an eDiscovery event occurs, such as a receipt of complaint, discovery, or notice of potential legal claim, the identification stage begins. Content that may be subject to eDiscovery must be identified and searches are conducted to find that content. That content needs to be preserved and at some point, the content will be collected.

 

The eDiscovery Features

Hold and eDiscovery

Hold and eDiscovery is a site level feature that can be activated on any site.

imageActivating this feature creates a new category in Site Settings that provides links to Holds and Hold Reports lists. There is also a page to discover and hold content that allows you to search for content and add it to a hold. Once the Hold and eDiscovery feature is activated you can create holds and add to hold any content in the site collection. By default only Site Collection administrators have access to the Hold and eDiscovery pages. To give other users permission, add them to the permissions list for the Hold Reports and Holds lists. This will also give access to the Discover and hold content page.

clip_image005You can manually locate content in SharePoint and add it to a hold, or you can search for content and add the search results to a hold. With the Hold and eDiscovery feature you can create holds in the hold list and then manually add content to the relevant hold by clicking on Compliance Details from the drop down menu for individual items.

imageThen click on the link to Add/Remove from hold.

imageAnd you can select the relevant hold to add to or remove from.

imageBy manually adding an item to hold you will block editing and deletion of that item until it is released from hold. You will notice that the document now has a lock icon showing that it cannot be edited or deleted.

imageEach night a report for each hold is generated by a timer job. If you need a hold report faster you can manually run the Hold Processing and Reporting timer job in Central Administration.

Search and Process

You can manually add items to hold on any site collection, which is great. But that doesn’t help you find the content you don’t already know about. What if you have a large amount of items you want to find and add to a hold? For that you can use the features on the Discover and hold content page, which is a settings page in Site Settings. From this page you can specify a search query and then preview the results. The configured search service (SharePoint Search Server or FAST Search for SharePoint) will automatically be used. You can then select the option to keep items on hold in place so they cannot be edited or deleted, or if you have configured a Content Organizer Send to location in Central Administration you can have content copied to another site and placed on hold. You may want to create a separate records center site for a particular hold to store all content related to that hold. The Content Organizer is a new SharePoint Server 2010 feature based on the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Document Router with richer functionality to automatically classify content based on Content Type or metadata properties. Look for a future blog post covering the Content Organizer.

Holding content in place is recommended if you want to leave content in the location is was created with all the rich context that SharePoint provides, while blocking deletion and editing of content. Be aware that this will prevent users from modifying items. If you prefer users to continue editing documents, then use the copy to another location approach.

When searching and processing, the search will by default be scoped to the entire Site Collection and run with elevated permissions so all content can be discovered. The search can be scoped to specific sites and you can also preview search results before adding the results to a hold. Items can be placed on multiple holds and compliance details will show all of the holds that are applied to an item.

imageIn summary, SharePoint Server 2010 contains key features that make it an essential aspect of your eDiscovery strategy. With the new SharePoint Server 2010 capabilities you can easily apply proper retention policies for all content and make it easier to discover content if an eDiscovery event occurs. eDiscovery often prescribes tight deadlines for production. SharePoint 2010 helps you find the right content and deliver it faster.

Quentin Christensen
Program Manager – Document and Records Management
Microsoft