There is something rather peculiar that is going on in our industry that I find rather alarming: Many people are not taking responsible measures when handling data. Firms and corporations are still handing over data haphazardly, people are using the same flash drives for both work and personal use, and client emails are still being loaded into Outlook for review. I remember back when companies would hand over data with no Chain of Custody form to sign, and that was typically considered acceptable. Nowadays, it’s the opposite, or at least it should be… but astonishingly, there are still people out there handing over important documents in this manner, throwing caution to the wind.
Through the years, I have experienced this far too many times. A hard drive is provided to me from the front desk receptionist without asking to see any verification as to who I claim to be before trusting me with gigabytes or terabytes of data that could make or break a case. Not only is an assumption being made, but no paper trail has been created on their part to document the exchange. I do have them sign a Chain of Custody form to keep a log of the transferal on my company’s behalf, but it would seem that if I hadn’t there wouldn’t have been one at all – I even ask if they have their own form that I should sign, but to no avail. It’s only once in a blue moon that the provider of the data decides that they like the look of our Chain of Custody and ask to make a photocopy of it for their own records, to which I enthusiastically oblige.
For the most part, I have noticed more firms and companies doing their due diligence when it comes to practicing the responsibility of tracking data, but there are still outliers who are behind the times; more than there should be. Of note, our upcoming presidential election is faced with the possibility of millions of votes having no paper trail due to the e-ballot process, in which eDiscovery could act as the remedy. In this case, it would seem that the civilian votes deciding who will run our country can’t even be fully tracked responsibly.
Then there is the matter of flash drives. To keep the integrity of your client’s work intact, and for your own cyber security, do not use the same flash drive for both work and personal use. The last thing you want is to hand over a flash drive of your client’s emails to be processed and forget that you have your own personal files on that very stick. Even worse, a forensic image is to be made and everything you’ve personally saved onto it over the years but “deleted” is now recovered and mixed in with your client’s data. When paying the bill at a restaurant, along with your debit card you could also provide the waiter with your social security number, bank account number, pictures of your last four family vacations, and that regretful video recording of your final karaoke attempt of the night, but why would you? The point is, don’t use the same media for work and personal use; keep them separate. Further, reusing the same flash drive for multiple cases through the years leads to a similar conundrum. Nobody wants to mix eight different cases worth of data after a forensic image is made from one flash drive… let’s avoid whatever sanctions we possibly can. Similarly, eDiscovery vendors don’t reuse hard drives to deliver work product, no matter how “wiped” they might think it is.
As a whole, we need to be more personally responsible for our actions in the digital age, especially considering the industry of eDiscovery. Telling your eDiscovery vendor to “Ignore the other four folders on the flash drive; those are for other cases and personal stuff,” is something everyone needs to get away from. We live in a time where scammers will call you, mimicking and claiming to be “Windows tech support,” advising you to give them remote access to your personal computer so they can eliminate the viruses you’ve downloaded since their data shows that your computer has been running slow. Well, we do not allow unsolicited, supposed pest control reps to walk right into our houses to eliminate the bee problem they happened to spot when driving by, right? Along with that, by all means do not simply plug in a flash drive that you find on the street, and if you are going to set up your own personal server at home, well, considering the current presidential race I think we all know what kind of finger pointing that can lead to when it comes to your digital responsibility pertaining to important documents. Let’s just play it safe, shall we?