By John Evans
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to alter our lives and businesses, it is most important to keep the safety of people at the forefront. Social distancing is widely considered to be one of the most important practices to combat the spread of the virus. Many businesses have shifted to a remote work environment so their employees can follow “stay-at-home” guidelines. This new way of conducting business has an effect on data collection as part of e-discovery, but perhaps less than one may think.
While much of today’s workforce adjusts to remote work and all its differences from traditional onsite work, the process of data collection has been carried out remotely for many years. Prior to about 2005, most data collection was conducted onsite by a forensic technician who went desk-to-desk to copy data from custodians’ workstations. This was very a “high-touch” process. When all the workstations were collected, the forensic technician would likely work with the in-house IT team to access data contained on file and in email servers that were on-premises. This all began to change when companies started moving their data to the cloud.
The march of data to the cloud has continued unabated for at least 15 years, with more corporate and personal data added by the second. Some sources estimate there are already dozens of zetabytes (1 billion terabytes) in the cloud, with no end in sight. Widely used cloud platforms like Office 365, G Suite, and AWS were initial drivers of corporate data to the cloud. Now, most new data sources are born and live exclusively in the cloud. Social media, personal webmail accounts, Slack, Salesforce.com, Jira, Dropbox, Box.com, iCloud, and countless other sources of potentially relevant data can only be accessed remotely. Forensic collection tools and workflows had to adapt long before our current work state.
The underlying goals of a forensic collection have not changed: Collect all potentially relevant data in a manner that is forensically sound, defensible, and proportional. And do so in a way that is as minimally disruptive as possible for data custodians and businesses. While there are challenges to 100% remote collection, especially with mobile device data, e-discovery practitioners are well-suited to pivot in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and seamlessly help clients meet their legal and compliance obligations.