Having an effective ediscovery system in place is a saving grace for many companies, especially in cases of litigation and maintaining compliance to various federal and industry email retention laws and electronic data retention best practices.
A Few Words About Email Quotas
Email quotas are common in business. They’re used to manage the amount of data each employee uses for their email and to control email archiving requirements. Anyone who has worked for a large organization will be aware of them and will know the pain of skimming your inbox looking for things to delete.
Still, quotas go hand in hand with problems, because the management and compliance teams rely on staff to retain the right email and dump the rest.
This isn’t always an easy task and many employees will simply choose a timeframe and delete everything older. It’s easier, cleaner and, unless it creates a direct issue, it seems logical.
The problem is that email evidence for ediscovery is not always obvious. When there is a company email archive, you can search email records, even the ones that employees delete. Without an archive, you have to hope that a vital email hasn’t been deleted.
So before we explore the importance of activity trails in the ediscovery process, let’s have a look at some of the ways email can become evidence.
1. Proof of knowledge or involvement
An email address in a ‘to’ section could be enough to signal wrongdoing. In lawsuits that are designed to decide the involvement of a particular employee, evidence that they received an email could be enough to cast doubts. Alternatively, the lack of proof the email was received could exonerate. Without a defined email retention strategy, you have no control over what email is retained.
In other cases, where the ultimate proof is elsewhere, email may be used to provide character evidence or context. Almost any email could provide that context – the most innocuous two-sentence mail could demonstrate a frosty or warm relationship between employees.
This background information could be vital but, once again, without a proper email retention policy or data archiving strategy, your chances of retaining email are down to pure luck.
3. The smoking gun
Some lawsuits will rely entirely on email evidence. If an employee or manager has made an inappropriate comment in an email, that message could become the key piece of evidence in a discrimination or dismissal case.
For it to become evidence, it needs to be in an email archive or retained within a mailbox. This is the easiest piece of evidence to spot, but may be deleted by the perpetrator and leave you in the dark until after the discovery process.
In each of these situations, there is always the possibility that the email will be destroyed. The most recent such scandal happened in Sweden, where the state Covid-19 strategist, Anders Tegnell, seems to have deleted important emails detailing Sweden’s unpopular no-lockdown policy.
The emails were obtained by Swedish journalists as part of the regular Freedom of Information request. According to The Guardian, “not all emails were stored by the health authority and may be missing because they have been discarded by the individual employee”.
How to Handle Ediscovery and FOIA Requests with Email Archiving
Litigation or an open data request can present a huge cost for any organization but thanks to the wide digitization of modern documents, that cost can be significantly reduced if the right ediscovery technology has been implemented.
When the threat of litigation arises, your organization needs to react quickly and meet the deadlines set by legal counsel or courts. And given the drain on your resources during this process, faster is better.
Ediscovery solutions allow you and your organization to retrieve your email or other electronically stored information (WhatsApp chats, social media posts or phone call records) very quickly using a combination of various search criteria and keywords.
This saves your organization from sending a team of lawyers to search through boxes of hard copy documents, unorganized screenshots or tapes, tracking up plenty of billable hours in the process.
The software tools used in the ediscovery process, including an enterprise information archiving solution, allows organizations to respond to litigation requests more efficiently
- Removes the dependency on your legal team and IT department to locate and retrieve email
- Allows for the easy access to data via a web interface or a mobile app for ediscovery or compliance audits
- Offers a solution for the litigation support process, allowing for classification of records and collaboration among internal discovery users, including outside counsel
- Enables powerful, efficient and high volume search capabilities – includes the capability of searching by keywords or phrases, conversations and organizing records into cases
- Produces evidence by reliably mass-exporting to common formats such as EML, PST or PDF
Email Archiving: Different People Have Different Permissions
When it comes to your data archiving software, different employees in your organization will be assigned different roles. Typical user roles are the Admin, the Compliance Officer(s) and the Regular Users. They will have different permissions in terms of access to the archiving software and what kind of actions they can perform on it.
Some software vendors allow the creation of custom user roles and permissions so that companies can organize the access to the archived data with more flexibility and in accordance with what they need to search and monitor on a regular basis.
Talking about the traditional three roles, end users are only given access to their own mailboxes and they have limited options in terms of search. Compliance officers are given broader permissions ‒ they are the so-called privileged users who can search through all mailboxes.
Still, they still wouldn’t have access to some of the admin permissions. Admins are the only ones who would have access to everything, be able to configure the settings or assign different roles to employees.
What Is an Audit Trail and Why Is it Important?
An email archiving solution needs to guarantee a tamper-proof archive in order for the business to stay compliant and ediscovery-ready.
One of the biggest advantages of email archiving is that it prevents the deliberate or inadvertent manipulation of your important files. This is vital because the company needs to prove the integrity of specific emails in case they’re used as evidence in a legal case.
Email archiving solutions allow admins and compliance officers to perform audits.
The audit trail feature offers a read-only log which is used to track activities on the archiving software. It also allows authorized staff members to view the history of activities of a specific user (or another compliance officer) within a specific date range.
For instance, if an employee attempts to access a section they are not authorized to access, this activity will be recorded in the audit log. The software allows admins to check whether specific keywords have been searched, which users looked for what data, whether they attempted to modify certain rules or whether somebody tried to overstep their authority.
In order to remain compliant with industry laws and regulations, you have to make sure your archiving solution offers full audit trails. Monitoring user activities will give you the ultimate control of your data, allow you to track unauthorized activities or attempts at viewing other people’s data, prevent data alterations and ensure full compliance.
To learn more about audit trails, user roles and other important features, contact Jatheon or book a personalized demo to see how audit trails work in practice.