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Archive for October, 2011

Key eDiscovery Considerations for Selecting a Cloud Service Provider

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

The data explosion that has burdened organizations across the globe for the past decade has become increasingly expensive to manage.  Many experts point to storage as the most obvious culprit for higher information governance costs.  There are, however, other factors driving those costs.  For example, demands for electronically stored information in legal and regulatory proceedings have significantly increased expenses surrounding data management.  Those demands have forced organizations to meet the high expectations that courts and regulatory bodies have for how they address their information or face the consequences.

Those consequences include sanctions and regulatory fines for groups that fail to account for how they store, manage and discover their information.  The $919 million verdict rendered in the E.I. du Pont de Nemours v. Kolon Industries case is paradigmatic of this trend.  That verdict was inextricably intertwined with the court’s instruction to the jury that executives and employees for defendant Kolon Industries deleted key evidence after the company’s preservation duty was triggered.

Going to Cloud Services for Data Archiving and eDiscovery

These rising data costs – and the risks they pose – are driving organizations to explore new technologies and methods for managing their data.  The latest alternative to traditional on-premise solutions involves leveraging cloud-based services.

The hype surrounding the cloud has generally focused on the opportunity for cheap and unlimited storage.  While cost effective data storage is important, that factor alone should not be determinative for selecting a cloud service provider.  Organizations must have the actual – not theoretical – ability to retrieve their data and do so in real time.  Otherwise, they may not be able to satisfy legal or regulatory requests, let alone the day-to-day demands of their operations.

In an analogous context, courts have traditionally compelled paper document productions even though the requested materials may be buried in a messy warehouse.  In one such case from this year, a U.S. district court in New York ordered a company to turn over decades-old records that were commingled with other materials in poorly labeled, shrink-wrapped boxes.  The court reasoned that disorganized record-keeping should not excuse an organization from producing relevant information.  See Brooks v. Macy’s (S.D.N.Y. May 6, 2011).

The rationale from the Brooks case is equally applicable to cloud-based services.  Cloud-based data must be intelligently organized so that companies can retrieve data in a timely fashion for business and legal purposes.  Otherwise, the savings achieved through cheap storage will be negated by the resulting legal quagmire.

Paring Back Superfluous and Duplicative Information

To facilitate the data retrieval process, the right cloud service provider should have the capacity to implement and observe applicable company retention policies.  An effective retention policy will generally help a company retain information that must be kept for business, legal or regulatory purposes – and nothing else.  The service provider should enable automated retention rules to ensure that information is kept only for a designated time period.  This will allow data to be expired once it reaches the end of that period.  And by expiring that data, the company will limit the amount of potentially relevant information available for follow-on litigation.

The pool of information can also be decreased through single instance storage.  This deduplication technology eliminates redundant data by preserving only a master copy of each document placed into the cloud.  This will reduce the amount of data that needs to be identified, collected and reviewed as part of the electronic discovery process.  For while unlimited data storage may seem ideal now, reviewing unlimited amounts of data will quickly become a logistical and costly nightmare.

Tools to Facilitate Discovery

A cloud service provider should ideally have eDiscovery functionality.  At a minimum, the service provider should be able to deploy legal holds to prevent users or automated policies from overwriting and destroying data.  Advanced search capabilities should also be included within the cloud-based service to reduce the amount of data that must be analyzed and then reviewed.  Moreover, the provider should support compatible load formats for export to third party review software.

Another key discovery issue is whether the cloud service provider can establish a clear audit trail for transmissions of company data.  Since information could be modified in transit by the routine operation of a service provider’s computer systems, an audit trail is necessary to prove that company documents and their metadata were not affected or otherwise compromised during transmission.  Without this assurance, a company may not be able to demonstrate the authenticity of its data before a tribunal or comply with key regulations.

A cloud server provider that can quickly retrieve and efficiently discover data has the potential to help organizations address their legal and regulatory demands in a cost effective manner.  Such a provider may be just the solution for organizations that are looking to properly address their runaway information governance costs.

Amending the FRCP: More Questions than Answers

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Outcry from many in the legal community has caused a number of groups to consider whether the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) should be amended.  The dialogue began in earnest a year ago at the Duke Civil Litigation Conference and picked up speed following an eDiscoverymini-conference” held in Dallas last month (led by the Discovery Subcommittee –  appointed by the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules).  The rules amendment topic is so hot that the Sedona Conference (WG1) spent most of its two day annual meeting discussing the need for amendments and evaluating a range of competing proposals.

During this dialogue (which I can’t quote verbatim) a number of things became clear to me…

1.  This rules amendment quandary is a bit of a chicken and egg riddle — meaning that it’s hard to cast support wholeheartedly for a rules change if there isn’t a good consensus for what a particular change would accomplish and what the long term consequences might be as technology quickly morphs.  As an example, if there was a redefined preservation trigger that started the duty to preserve when there was a reasonable “certainty” of litigation (versus a mere “likelihood”), would this really make a material impact?  Or, would this inquiry still be as highly fact specific as it is today?  Would this still be similarly prone to the 20/20 hindsight judgment that’s inevitable as well?

2. While it is clear that preservation has become a more complex and risk laden process, it’s not clear that this “pain” is causally related to the FRCP.  In the notes from the Dallas mini-conference, a pending Sedona survey was quoted, referencing the fact that preservation challenges were overwhelmingly increasing:

“[S]ome trends can be noted. 95% (of the surveyed members) agreed that preservation issues were more frequent. 75% said that development was due to the proliferation of information.”

3. Another camp of stakeholders complain that the existing rules (as amended in 2006) aren’t being followed by practitioners or understood by the judiciary.  While this may be the case, it then begs the critical question: If folks aren’t following the amended rules (utilizing proportionality, leveraging FRE 502, etc.) is it really reasonable to think that any new rules would be followed this time around?

4. The role of technology in easing the preservation burden represents another murky area for debate.  For example, it could be argued that preservation pains (i.e., costs) are only really significant for organizations that haven’t deployed state of the art information governance solutions (e.g., legal hold solutions, email archives, records retention software, etc.) to make the requisite tasks less manual.

5. And finally, even assuming that the FRCP is magically re-jiggered to ease preservation costs, this would only impact organizations with litigation in Federal court. This leaves many still exposed to varying standards for the preservation trigger, scope and associated sanctions.

So, in the end, it’s unclear what the future holds for an amended FRCP landscape.  Given the range of divergent perspectives, differing viewpoints on potential solutions and the time necessary to navigate the Rules Enabling Act, the only thing that’s clear is that the cavalry isn’t coming to the rescue any time soon.  This means that organizations with significant preservation pains should endeavor to better utilize the rules that are on the books and deploy enabling technologies where possible.

Nightmare on ESI Street: How to Sleep Well in a Scary Regulatory Climate

Friday, October 7th, 2011

As a proxy for risk assessment, many legal practitioners are simply asked, “What keeps you up at night?”  Aside from (i) small children and (ii) spicy Thai food, it’s becoming increasingly clear that eDiscovery is moving to the head of this inauspicious list, particularly for corporate boards, which now view risk management and regulatory compliance as their top concerns.

In a recent survey, BDO queried more than 100 directors at public companies with revenues between $250 million and $750 million and found that risk management factored heavily into the survey’s findings.  Over half of respondents identified managing risk as the topic they should be spending more time on, with 61% saying that their liability risk has increased during the financial downturn.

“In recent years, the responsibilities of corporate boards have grown considerably and much of their time has been dedicated to responding to new regulatory requirements,” says Wendy Hambleton, a partner in BDO’s corporate governance practice, in a statement about the survey. “What we are seeing in this study is a willingness of boards to take a more proactive role in risk management and it seems to be related to the risk they face as directors.”

On a similar risk management theme, another survey queried general counsel about what keeps them up at night.  Of these nearly 500 directors and GCs, 56% cited electronic discovery for litigation and investigation, which represented a marked increase since 2007, when only 36% of general counsel said they had the same nightmares.

This increasing concern around compliance and information governance isn’t surprising giving that the regulatory environment (FCPA, UK Bribery Act, Dodd-Frank, etc.) is much more rigorous than it was even a few years ago.  And, the fears are that this supercharged regulatory environment will only increase in fervor, with the majority of GCs feeling strongly that it will be the single biggest contributor to their workload through the rest of this year and leading into 2012.

What is interesting about these concerns is the disconnect between the very real fears and the lack of action – since many practitioners simply aren’t taking proactive steps to mitigate their information governance risks.  In an extension of the nightmare analogy, it’s like repeatedly watching scary movies right before bedtime and then being surprised when Freddy Kruger shows up in their dreams.

As noted previously, Symantec’s recent Information Retention and eDiscovery Survey revealed how blissfully ignorant some enterprises are about their shoddy information governance hygiene. Despite the numerous risks that are keeping so many up at night, the survey found nearly half of the respondents did not have an information retention plan in place, and of this group, only 30% were discussing how to do so.  Most shockingly, 14% appear to be ostriches with their heads in the sand and have no plans to implement any retention plan whatsoever.  When asked why folks weren’t taking action, respondents indicated lack of need (41%), too costly (38%), nobody has been chartered with that responsibility (27%), don’t have time (26%) and lack of expertise (21%) as top reasons.

While it is important to get a good night’s sleep, it isn’t wise to slumber through the night with an army of ESI zombies ravaging your house, particularly when it’s possible to implement even the most basic information governance plans.  It’s beyond blissfully ignorant to ignore real risks and snooze away during what is assuredly an escalating regulatory climate.  Instead, put the best possible people, processes and technology in place, and start again, well rested, in the morning.

Breaking News: Ninth Circuit Extends Scope of Electronic Communications Privacy Act to Foreign Citizens

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The Ninth Circuit unequivocally extended the protections of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) to foreign citizens yesterday.  In Suzlon Energy Ltd. v. Microsoft Corp. — F.3d — (9th Cir. 2011), the court held that the ECPA protects the emails of non-citizens that are stored in the United States from disclosure.

At issue were various emails belonging to an Indian citizen that were stored in his Microsoft Hotmail account.  Relying on the plain language of the statute, the district court rejected the plaintiff energy provider’s request that Microsoft turn over the emails for use in an Australian-based legal proceeding.  The Ninth Circuit agreed, finding that the protections of the ECPA expressly encompassed “any person” whose emails were stored “on a domestic server, by a domestic corporation.”

The Suzlon Energy opinion has three additional noteworthy points.  First, the Ninth Circuit declined to create by judicial fiat a “civil litigation” exception that would allow the production of the emails.  Such an exception would have eviscerated the privacy concerns regarding electronically stored communications that Congress specifically invoked in enacting the statute.

The court also refused to find that the defendant’s status as a party to litigation constituted “implied consent” to the production of his Hotmail emails.  Such a finding is consistent with other jurisprudence holding that participation in legal proceedings does not waive the protections of the ECPA.

Last but not least, the court’s holding applies only to emails stored in the United States.  It does not apply to information maintained or acts that occurred beyond the United States.

The Suzlon Energy case represents a growing chorus of opinions that have toughened the privacy protections of the ECPA.  As more courts follow the lead of the Ninth Circuit on the ECPA, the clamor for Congress to enact amendments that would modernize the statute will undoubtedly increase.  Stay tuned; the fight over privacy on the internet is just beginning.