How do you search through all your electronic information? Almost the entire western world thrives on the benefits that modern-day technology brings to our lives." >
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Searching the paperless society

01 Apr 2009

How do you search through all your electronic information?

Almost the entire western world thrives on the benefits that modern-day technology brings to our lives. With new innovations, communicating with one another has become simplified, instantaneous and, to a certain degree, paperless. Mobile messages, emails, online documents and instant chat messages allow for two or more people to communicate within the same city, the same country or even across time zones simultaneously.

In the commercial world, a large proportion of the communication between employees, clients, suppliers and the community at large takes place through electronic media. Emails and online documents produced in programmes such as MS Office or Lotus Notes have become the primary method of official business contact between individuals.

While technology brings with it many communication benefits through ultimate interconnectedness, it can also cause severe turmoil if a company is involved in legal action and ordered by the courts to produce certain documents stored in an electronic format on servers, personal computers and storage devices, such as CDs and DVDs, backup tapes, disk arrays and memory sticks. The process of searching for these documents is known as eDiscovery.

What is eDiscovery?

eDiscovery, or electronic discovery, is the digital discovery of electronic data. The electronic data is sought, stored, secured and indexed for the purpose of using it as evidence in a criminal or civil legal case. It is also commonly referred to as electronic evidence discovery – EED or as electronic data discovery – EDD.

eDiscovery costs can be daunting for many businesses. When organisations use a reactive approach, compliance efforts can turn into a time-consuming and costly practice. Businesses need to assess key aspects of their storage system including the volume and file sizes currently stored, the current retrieval process employed and the ease of  data transmission, data accession and data retention. 

Law & Order

eDiscovery begins with the legal team associated with each action. A search is begun through your own records, looking for electronically stored items that could create issues if or when the proceeding reaches court. Generally you are looking for evidence that can substantiate or negate the issues that may be raised. Clients are not usually completely forthcoming with relevant documents, and this can be the Achilles heel of a case. When the case gets to court, if not all of the evidence is forthcoming, the judge may order a company, regardless of whether it is a sole trader or a large corporation, to produce documents that relate to the issue at hand. Having all of the evidence, either for or against the issue, could potentially win or lose a case in court.

The judge’s search order may specify criteria including keywords, users or departments, particular times and dates, or to specific email servers, backups and archive tapes. Electronic documents, spreadsheets, presentations, emails, PDF’s, data on company laptops, VoIP, video and audio files, instant and mobile messages, as well as all associated metadata, are key elements that may be required for the eDiscovery process.

The courts usually will provide a company with a timeframe between 28 and 100 days in which to search for and locate all electronic evidence that relates to the specified search criteria. Should a company fail to produce these documents, intentionally destroy information or fail to provide evidence that a thorough search was conducted, the courts may conclude that a penalty be awarded against the company in the form of criminal contempt or sanctions. 

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