Your data backups are there to help you recover information, applications and files if required, hopefully both effectively and efficiently. But they and any archiving you do may also be there for external parties to use as a result of e-discovery. That’s the retrieval of electronically stored information (ESI) for use in legal proceedings involving your organisation. The US has led the way in this field, defining ESI as any information that is “created, stored, or best used with any kind of computer technology”. Now in Australia, all court dealings above a certain size must be conducted completely digitally. But is e-discovery good news or bad news for legal rulings and ultimately business continuity?
The aim of e-discovery from the point of view of the court is to oblige organisations and their lawyers to manage litigation documents more efficiently. Legal document management has lagged other industry sectors. Forced by increasingly large quantities of paper documents that required labour-intensive search efforts, the first step was to number the papers and create a database with this index information. The next step was to link the index to scanned versions of the hardcopy documents. By 1999, a Victorian Law Reform Committee report had noted that an electronic courtroom using these principles had, according to users, reduced time and costs by as much as 50 percent.
So being able to efficiently access your data in this e-discovery mode can save on precious resources. Conversely, there are penalties for doing e-discovery incorrectly if evidence cannot be produced, is compromised or destroyed. For e-discovery to work and be approved, organisations must be able to show that data were identified, collected and manipulated in the right way, without changing the original information. A specialist software industry has grown up around e-discovery, with pioneering products like Ringtail. For organisations, that is simultaneously an obligation to get e-discovery right to avoid financial loss and reputational damage – and an opportunity to save time and effort and boost overall resilience.