eDiscovery Myth: Metadata is of limited value
Truth: Metadata is more than ‘data about data’, and can make or break a case.
To understand metadata, we first need to discuss how it is defined. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland has grouped metadata into three groups according to the Suggested Protocol for Discovery of Electronically Stored Information.
These categories are System Metadata, which is what we most commonly think of and includes date of creation, author, date of modification etc. Next, is Embedded Data, which includes data entered into a document that may not be normally visible. This is a common way to structure unstructured data for easier use later. Lastly, is Substantive Metadata which tracks changes to a document or file.
By understanding the various kinds of metadata, a litigator may have an easier time understanding how the information may be beneficial to their case. In fact, metadata has proved to be the winning piece in numerous cases. A notable example is in 2017 when a former Bio-Rad Laboratories whistleblower, who suffered from retaliation, was awarded over $7.9 million because of metadata. A performance review of the former general counsel was said to be completed in April, which would have shown the whistleblower had been fired because of performance issues; however, the document’s metadata reflected a creation date in July, a full month after the termination of said employee. So while changes in substantive metadata can prove errors in timelines, lack of changes may also bolster an argument, meaning metadata is beneficial for both sides.
However, as with all data, there is a risk of privileged or confidential material within metadata as well. Because metadata travels with the electronic files it is connected to, it is possible to unintentionally share confidential or privileged metadata. To mitigate this risk, it is up to the case team to withhold or redact metadata when sharing copies with the opposing counsel or uploading to the courts’ electronic filing portal.
There are many instances in which a case team may inspect metadata but finding that data may sometimes be half the battle. Using tools like RelativityOne a review team can establish workflows that easily search, locate, and tag documents containing such sensitive material for further review and treatment. By entrusting sensitive information with the Dauntless Discovery team, clients can be assured that only the appropriate documents and data are produced.
While the myth states that metadata is of limited value, that is simply not the case. Not only can metadata shed light on timelines, people, and security pitfalls, but it can give even more information about facts your team is already using, creating an even better argument. Many teams overlook metadata, leaving behind critical puzzle pieces that tell a story. Utilizing experienced review teams with technologically advanced workflows, this essential information may be presented in an easy-to-understand dashboard. Metadata can act as the backbone to many types of cases, so do not let it fall through the cracks.