The case of the disappearing text messages


I ran across an interesting mobile phone application the other day called Tiger Text (also called the cheating spouse app). Tiger Text is an app that bills itself as a tool to help people “cover their tracks”, in this case tracks that are left when sending traditional text messages from phone to phone.  What Tiger Text does is enable a user to send text messages back and forth to others also using Tiger Text and not worry about the text message being found by someone else, because messages sent via Tiger Text will essentially self destruct within a specified timeframe.

When you send a text message using Tiger Text, the content of your message is never sent to the recipient’s phone as it does when you send a standard text message.  Since the message doesn’t reside on the recipient’s phone, but rather stored on Tiger Text’s servers, you are given full control when the messages are deleted from Tiger Text’s servers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see from the screen shots above, once the messages are gone, they are gone.  You can set messages to ‘Delete on Read’ or set your own time limit such as 2 hours, 4 hours, etc. Keep in mind that both sender and recipient must have the Tiger Text application installed for the capability to work (there is a free reader if the other person doesn’t want to buy Tiger Text), and if a message is set to expire at a specified time period and it’s not read, then it’s gone forever. This “Delete” capability can be set from the menu shown below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The actual content of TigerText messages are erased from the sender’s phone, the recipient’s phone and all servers when the message expires. TigerText does not allow the user to copy or save a message, however if someone really wanted to they could video capture your TigerText, take a screen shot, or take a photo of their phone. TigerText cannot promise that your messages will not be copied by some alternative means. Be smart! Anyone can take a picture of a phone.

Tiger Text is available for iPhones, Blackberrys, Microsoft powered mobile phones and Android phones.

What’s this got to do with eDiscovery?

With above description in mind, it occurred to me that this application could cause some problems for the eDiscovery process.

  1. If a custodian is using this application while they are potentially a party to litigation and are using this app to send or receive information relevant to the case, are they guilty of destruction of evidence? In my opinion, absolutely!
  2. How could you place and enforce a litigation hold on this data? The answer is you can’t.
  3.  How would an organization collecting responsive data for eDiscovery even know to look for this capability? It all comes down to knowing the technology landscape and asking the right questions of custodians such as “do you utilize any applications or other processes on any computing devices including cell phones which automatically delete ESI?”
  4. So what’s an organization to do? The only thing you can do is forbid installing these kinds of applications on any organization assets and audit to see that custodians are following the policy. You obviously can’t do anything about what employees do with their own non-company owned devices except to reiterate that company related business should never be conducted over non-company owned devices (and its always a good idea to remind employees that if they do use their own devices for company business this will open their personal computers, phones etc to eDiscovery).

The main point is to be aware of these capabilities and to look for them when in eDiscovery.

Advertisements

Your organization’s social media problem can’t be cured with antibiotics


You can’t control what employees do away from work on their own time and using their own equipment but companies do have a right to control their brand and that includes how they are represented by their employees on social media sites. For that reason, every organization should develop, implement and enforce a corporate-wide social media policy for all employees (because if you don’t enforce it, then do you really have a policy?).

Gary MacFadden was kind enough to pose a great question in response to my last blog posting titled “Did you hear the one about the Attorney who thought social media was a dating website for singles over 40?”. Gary pointed out that it would be helpful if I could give examples of a corporate social media policy (what it involved) and what the employee education process would be to make employees aware of the policy. With that in mind, here are some aspects of a corporate social media policy:

  1. A policy author with contact information in case employees have questions
  2. An effective date
  3. A definition of what social media is
  4. A description as to why this policy is being developed (for legal defense, brand protection etc)
  5. A description of  what social media sites the company officially participates in
  6. A listing of those employees approved to participate on those sites
    1. The fact that any and all approved social media participations will be done only from corporate infrastructure (this is to protect approved employees from discovery of their personal computers)
    2. A description of topics approved to be used
    3. A description of those topics not approved to be used
    4. A description of any approval authority process
    5. A description of what will happen to the employee if they don’t follow the approved process
  7. A direct statement that unapproved employees that make derogatory remarks about the organization, publish identifying information about clients, employees, or organization financials, talk about organization business or strategy etc. in any social media venue will be punished in the following manner…
  8. A description of how these policies will be audited and enforced

Once the policy is developed, it needs to be communicated to all employees and updated by legal representative on an annual basis. This education process could include steps like:

  1. A regularly updated company intranet site explaining the policy.
  2. A description and discussion of the policy in new employee orientation activities.
  3. A printed description of the policy which the employee signs and returns to the organization.
  4. An annual revisiting of the policy in department meetings.
  5. The publishing of an organization “hot line” to your corporate legal department for real-time questions.

On a related topic, for legal reasons you should be archiving all approved social media participations much like many companies now archive their email and instant message content.

This practice will seem rather draconian to many employees but in reality the organization needs to protect the brand and always have a proactive strategy for potential litigation.

A sampling of various organizations social media policies can be found here. I was particularly impressed with Dell’s.

From a previous blog post titled ”Beware: your facebook posts could end up in court”

Social networking posters beware…your Facebook and other social media accounts may be seen by more than just your friends; in fact, what you post and tweet could become court evidence.

But many of us don’t consider these implications when tweeting and posting. Current employers, potential employers and, yes, even attorneys review social networking sites for information on workers, job candidates and litigants.

Individuals as well as organizations need to carefully consider what they post to these sites. In the personal injury case of McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., No. 113-2010 CD (C.P. Jefferson, Sept. 9, 2010), Hummingbird Speedway, Inc. sought access to plaintiff’s social network accounts, requesting an eDiscovery production of his usernames, log-ins and passwords.

The olaintiff objected, arguing that the information on those sites was confidential.  Upon defendants’ Motion to Compel, the court found the requested information was not confidential or subject to the protection of any evidentiary privilege and ordered its production to defendants’ attorneys within 15 days. Additionally, the court ordered that plaintiff should not take steps to delete or alter the existing information on his social network accounts. The court said:

Specifically addressing the expectation of privacy with regard to Facebook and MySpace, the court found that any such expectation “would be unrealistic.”  The court then analyzed the relevant policies of the two sites, and concluded as to both that, “[w]hen a user communicates through Facebook or MySpace, however, he or she understands and tacitly submits to the possibility that a third-party recipient, i.e., one or more site operators, will also be receiving his or her messages and may further disclose them if the operator deems disclosure to be appropriate.”  Accordingly, the court determined that defendant could not successfully assert that his accounts were confidential.  In so holding, the court also noted the possibility that communications could be disclosed by friends of the account holder with whom the communications were shared.

Organizations need to establish and enforce employee social media policies to lower their risk and better protect their brand.

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.

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

The coming collision of “free to the public cloud storage” and eDiscovery


The discovery process is tough, time consuming and expensive. What new problems are corporate attorneys facing now with the availability of “free to the public cloud storage”?

First, what is “free to the public cloud storage”? For the purposes of this blog I will define it as a minimum amount of storage capacity offered by a third party, stored and accessible via the internet made available to the public at no cost (with the hope you purchase more). The cloud storage offerings I’ve already mentioned do not limit the types of files you can upload to these services. Music storage is a prime target for these services but many, like myself, are using them for storage of other types of files such as work files which can be accessed and used with nothing more than a computer and internet connection, anywhere.

Examples of these cloud storage offerings include Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Apple iCloud, and Microsoft SkyDrive. I looked at the Google Cloud Service but determined it is only useful with Google Docs.

A more detailed comparison of these services can be found here.

The only differences between the four offerings stem from the amount of free capacity available and how you access your files. For example, my Amazon Cloud Drive as seen from my Firefox web interface:

Figure 1: The Amazon Cloud Drive web interface

The advantage to users for these services is the ability to move and store work files that are immediately available to you from anywhere. This means you no longer have to copy files to a USB stick or worse, email work files as an attachment to your personal email account. The disadvantage of these services are corporate information can easily migrate away from the company security and be managed by a third party the company has no agreement with or understanding of in reference to the third party will respond to eDiscovery requests. Also be aware that ESI, even deleted ESI is not easily removed completely. In a previous blog I talked about the Dropbox “feature” of not completely removing ESI when deleted from the application as well as keeping a running audit log of all interactions of the account (all discoverable information). The Amazon Cloud Drive has the same “feature” with deletions.

Figure 2: The deleted items folder in the Amazon Cloud Drive actually keeps the deleted files for some period of time unless they are marked and “Permanently Deleted”

The big question in my mind is how will corporate counsel, employees and opposing counsel address this new potential target for responsive ESI? Take, for example, a company which doesn’t include public cloud storage as a potential litigation hold target, doesn’t ask employees about their use and or doesn’t search through these accounts for responsive ESI…potential spoliation.

For Corporate counsel:

  1. Be aware these types of possible ESI storage locations exist.
  2. Create a use policy addressing these services. Either forbid employees from setting up and using these services from any work location and equipment or if allowed be sure employees acknowledge these accounts can and will be subject to eDiscovery search.
  3. Audit the policy to insure it is being followed.
  4. Enforce the policy if employees are not following it.
  5. Document everything.

For employees:

  1. Understand that if you setup and use these services from employer locations, equipment and with company ESI, all ESI in that account could be subject to eDiscovery review.
  2. If you use these services for work, only use them with company ESI, not personal files.
  3. Be forthcoming with any legal questioning about the existence of these services you use.
  4. Do not download any company ESI from these services to any personal computer, this could potentially open up that personal computer to eDiscovery by corporate counsel

For opposing counsel:

Ask the following questions to the party being discovered

  1. Do any of your employees utilize company sanctioned or non-sanctioned public cloud storage services?
  2. Do you have a use policy which addresses these services?
  3. Does the policy penalize employees for not following this use policy?
  4. Do you audit this use policy?
  5. Have you documented the above?

These services are the obvious path for employees to utilize over the next couple of years to make their lives easier. All involved need to be aware of the eDiscovery implications.