Friday, April 21, 2006

Expert Documents Could Say More Than You Intended

Have you heard of "metadata mining"? Basically, it means looking at the underside and history of an email, file, or electronic document.

In today's Daily Business Review, Jessica M. Walker writes about the use of metadata mining in the legal world and the ethics and case law involved:

"Metadata -- the so-dalled "DNA of documents" -- is typically hidden from view. But procedures ranging from simple mouse clicks to more invasive tactics involving special software can reveal almost everything about a document and its creation, including the authors, their comments and all changes made to the document."

So with files and even email, it is wise to start from scratch rather than revising or fowarding. If you forward an email and blind copy it to several individuals - if someone knows how to look, they can see who originally wrote it, who it has been sent to (blind copy or not), what has been deleted and what has been added.

Wikipedia defines document metadata:

"Most programs that create documents, including Microsoft Word and other Microsoft products, save metadata with the document files. These metadata can contain the name of the person who created the file (obtained from the operating system), the name of the person who last edited the file, how many times the file has been printed, and even how many revisions have been made on the file. Other saved material, such as deleted text, document comments and the like, is also commonly referred to as "metadata", and the inadvertent inclusion of this material in distributed files has sometimes led to undesireable disclosures."

This can be done with spreadsheet documents too, where the underlying formulas behind calculations could make a big difference in a high-stakes pricing or wage case.

Some law firms are practicing 'data scrubbing' or removing metadata from documents; others are using PDFs which don't contain as much metadata as word processing and spreadsheet documents. However, metadata mining and e-discovery are closely intertwined and many legal questions are yet to be decided.

I urge you to read the article above and get more information about metadata and how it could affect you, your clients and your cases. Be aware of what your documents and emails might contain, but ask your retaining attorney before attempting to remove any metadata on your own - it could be unethical and even illegal if it limits discovery or destroys evidence

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