Coming to Terms with Defensible Disposal; Part 1


Last week at LegalTech New York 2013 I had the opportunity to moderate a panel titled: “Defensible Disposal: If it doesn’t exist, I don’t have to review it…right?” with an impressive roster of panelists. They included: Bennett Borden, Partner, Chair eDiscovery & Information Governance Section, Williams Mullen, Clifton C. Dutton, Senior Vice President, Director of Strategy and eDiscovery, American International Group and John Rosenthal, Chair, eDiscovery and Information Management Practice, Winston & Strawn and Dean Gonsowski, Associate General Counsel, Recommind Inc.

During the panel session it was agreed that organizations have been over-retaining ESI (which accounts for at least 95% of all data in organizations) even if it’s no longer needed for business or legal reasons. Other factors driving this over-retention of ESI were the fear of inadvertently deleting evidence, otherwise called spoliation. In fact an ESG survey published in December of 2012 showed that the “fear of the inability to furnish data requested as part of a legal or regulatory matter” was the highest ranked reason organizations chose not to dispose of ESI.

Other reasons cited included not having defined policies for managing and disposing of electronic information and adversely, organizations having defined retention policies to actually keep all data indefinitely (usually because of the fear of spoliation).

One of the principal information governance gaps most organizations haven’t yet addressed is the difference between “records” and “information”. Many organizations have “records” retention/disposition policies to manage those official company records required to be retained under regulatory or legal requirements. But those documents and files that fall under legal hold and regulatory requirements amount to approximately 6% of an organization’s retained electronic data (1% legal hold and 5% regulatory).

Another interesting survey published by Kahn Consulting in 2012 showed levels of employee understanding of their information governance-related responsibilities. In this survey only 21% of respondents had a good idea of what information needed to be retained/deleted and only 19% knew how  information should be retained or disposed of. In that same survey, only 15% of respondents had a general idea of their legal hold and eDiscovery responsibilities.

The above surveys highlight the fact that organizations aren’t disposing of information in a systematic process mainly because they aren’t managing their information, especially their electronic information and therefore don’t know what information to keep and what to dispose of.

An effective defensible disposal process is dependent on an effective information governance process. To know what can be deleted and when, an organization has to know what information needs to be kept and for how long based on regulatory, legal and business value reasons.

Over the coming weeks, I will address those defensible disposal questions and responses the LegalTech panel discussed. Stay tuned…

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Defensible Disposal means never being accused of spoliation for hosting “Shred Days”


U.S District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose reversed his own prior ruling from a 2009 case where he issued a judgment against SK Hynix, awarding Rambus Inc. $397 million in a patent infringement case. In his reversal this month, Judge Whyte ruled that Rambus Inc. had spoliated documents in bad faith when it hosted company wide “shred days” in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Judge Whyte found that Rambus could have reasonably foreseen litigation against Hynix as early as 1998, and that therefore Rambus engaged in willful spoliation during the three “shred days” (a finding of spoliation can be based on inadvertent destruction of evidence). Because of this recent spoliation ruling, the Judge reduced the prior Rambus award from $397 million to $215 million, a cost to Rambus of $182 million.

Two questions come to mind in this case; 1) why did Rambus see the need to hold “shred days”?, and 2) did they have an information governance policy and defensible disposal process? As a matter of definition, defensible disposal is the process (manual or automated) of disposing of unneeded or valueless data in a way that will standup in court as reasonable and consistent.

The obvious answer to the second question is probably not or if yes, it wasn’t being followed, otherwise why the need for the shred days? Assuming that Rambus was not destroying evidence knowingly; the term “shred-days” still has a somewhat negative connotation. I would think corporate attorneys would instruct all custodians within their companies that the term “shred” should be used sparingly or not at all in communications because of the questionable implications.

The term “Shred days” reminds many of the Arthur Andersen partner who so famously sent an email message to employees working on the Enron account, reminding them to “comply with the firm’s documentation and retention policy”. The Andersen partner never ordered the destruction or shredding of evidence but because anticipation of future litigation was potentially obvious, the implication in her email was “get rid of suspect stuff”. The timing of the email message was also suspect in that just 21 minutes separated Ms. Temple’s e-mail message to Andersen employees on the Enron account about the importance of complying with the firm’s document retention policy from an entry in a record of her current projects in which she wrote that she was working on a case involving potential violations of federal securities laws.

The Rambus case highlights the need for a true information governance process including a truly defensible disposal strategy. An information governance process would have been capturing, indexing, applying retention policies, protecting content on litigation hold and disposing of content beyond the retention schedule and not on legal hold… automatically, based on documented and approved legally defensible policies. A documented and approved process which is religiously followed, and with proper safeguards goes a long way with the courts to show good faith intent to manage content and protect that content subject to anticipated litigation.

Automatic Deletion…A Good Idea?


In my last blog, I discussed the concept of Defensible Disposal; getting rid of data which has no value to lower the cost and risk of eDiscovery as well as overall storage costs (IBM has been a leader in Defensive Disposal for several years). Custodians keep data because they might need to reuse some of the content later or they might have to produce it later for CYA reasons. I have been guilty of over the years and because of that I have a huge amount of old data on external disks that I will probably never, ever look at again. For example, I have over 500 GB of saved data, spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs, .wav files, MP3s, Word docs, URLs etc. that I have saved for whatever reason over the years. Have I ever really, reused any of the data…maybe a couple of times, but in reality they just site there. This brings up the subject of the Data Lifecycle. Fred Moore, Founder of Horison Information Strategies wrote about this concept years ago, referring to the Lifecycle of Data and the probability that the saved data will ever be re-used or even looked at again. Fred created a graphic showing this lifecycle of data.

Figure 1: The Lifecycle of data – Horison Information Systems

The above chart shows that as data ages, the probability of reuse goes down…very quickly as the amount of saved data rises. Once data has aged 90 days, its probability of reuse approaches 1% and after 1 year is well under 1%.

You’re probably asking yourself, so what!…storage is cheap, what’s the big deal? Storage is cheap. I have 500 GB of storage available to me on my new company supplied laptop. I have share drives available to me. And I have 1 TB of storage in my home office. I can buy 1TB of external disk for approximately $100, so why not keep everything forever?

For organizations, it’s a question of storage but more importantly, it’s a question of legal risk and the cost of eDiscovery. Any existing data could be a subject of litigation and therefore reviewable. You may recall in my last blog, I mentioned a recent report from the RAND Institute for Civil Justice which discussed the costs of eDiscovery including the estimate that the cost of reviewing records/files is approximately 73% of every eDiscovery dollar spent. By saving everything because you might someday need to reuse or reference it drive the cost of eDiscovery way up.

The key question to ask is; how do you get employees to delete stuff instead of keeping everything? In most organizations the culture has always been one of “save whatever you want until your hard disk and share drive is full”. This culture is extremely difficult to change…quickly. One way is to force new behavior with technology. I know of a couple of companies which only allow files to be saved to a specific folder on the users desktop. For higher level laptop users, as the user syncs to the organization’s infrastructure, all files saved to the specific folder are copied to a users sharedrive where an information management application applies retention policies to the data on the sharedrive as well as the laptop’s data folder.

In my opinion this extreme process would not work in most organizations due to culture expectations. So again we’re left with the question of how do you get employees to delete stuff?

Organizational cultures about data handling and retention have to be changed over time. This includes specific guidance during new employee orientation, employee training, and slow technology changes. An example could be reducing the amount of storage available to an employee on the share or home drive.

Another example could be some process changes to an employee’s workstation of laptop. Force the default storage target to be the “My Documents” folder. Phase 1 could be you have to save all files to the “My Documents” folder but can then be moved anywhere after that.

Phase 2 could include a 90 day time limit on the “My Documents” folder so that anything older than 90 days is automatically deleted (with litigation hold safeguards in place). This would cause files not deemed to be important enough to moved to be of little value and “disposable”. The 3rd Phase could include the inability to move files out of the “My Documents” folder (but with the ability for users to create subfolders with no time limit) thereby ensuring a single place of discoverable data.

Again, this strategy needs to be a slow progression to minimalize the perceived changes to the user population.

The point is it’s a end user problem, not necessarily an IT problem. End users have to be trained, gently pushed, and eventually forced to get rid of useless data…

Can you wipe your twitter ramblings, and should you?


In December of 2011, the Library of Congress and Twitter signed an agreement that will eventually make available every public Tweet ever sent as an archive to the Library of Congress.

While writing a blog post last week, I began  to wonder how long all my twitter postings would be available and who could look at them. For the fun of it, I went back through approximately 6 months of my old twitter postings, re-tweets and replies (yes you can do it, it’s relatively easy and you can look at anyone’s).

 I’ve been pretty good about keeping my twitter posts “business-like” and have steered away from personal stuff like “I just checked in to the Ramada Inn on route 11…can’t wait for the evening to begin!”, or “does anyone know how to setup an off-shore bank account?” or “those jerks over at Company ABC are a bunch of losers”.  But many tweeters aren’t so disciplined and have posted stuff that could come back to haunt them later. I could imagine a perspective employer reviewing a candidate’s twitter history or even worse an attorney conducting research for a case using the public twitter archives to create a timeline.

With that in mind, could you delete your twitter postings and should you? Twitter does allow you to delete specific tweets one at a time but as far as I can determine, Twitter does not give you the ability to delete your entire twitter history short of deactivating your account. From the Twitter website:

How To Delete a Tweet

If you’ve posted something that you’d rather take back, you can remove it easily. When you hover over your Tweet while viewing your home or profile page, you’ll see a few options appear below the message.

To delete one of your Twitter updates:

  1. 1.       Log in to Twitter.com
  2. 2.       Visit your Profile page
  3. 3.       Locate the Tweet you want to delete
  4. 4.       Hover your mouse over the message (as shown below), and click the “Delete” option that appears

Voila! Gone forever… almost. Deleted updates sometimes hang out in Twitter search. They will clear with time.

We do not provide a way to bulk delete Tweets. If you’re looking to get a “fresh start” on your Twitter account without losing your username, the best way to do this is to create a temporary account with a temporary username, and then switch the username between your current account and the temporary account. Please see our article on How to Change Your Username for more info. 

On December 30, 2011, CNET published a story titled “How to delete all your tweets” which highlighted a product called TwitWipe. TwitWipe is a free tool that allows you to delete ALL your past tweets in one fell swoop. This may be handy because you can clean out your twitter account and start fresh without changing your username and dumping all your hard won followers.

This is an interesting capability but I think the more important question is why would you use this drastic of a step? The four most obvious reasons one would want to delete all their twitter postings and start fresh would be:

1.       You went through an unfortunate period in your life that you would rather forget

2.       You were regularly conducting criminal activities through your Twitter account

3.       You are considering a run for the presidency

4.       For whatever reason, you don’t want your twitter postings archived and available at the Library of Congress

The ability to delete ESI can be dangerous if done at the wrong time, especially if civil litigation is anticipated. Deleting a single tweet or every tweet you have ever posted can be construed as destruction of evidence if those tweets could have been relevant in litigation. ESI, no matter its format or where it’s stored, is potentially evidence  and should be at least considered when protecting ESI for litigation hold. Attorneys on both sides need to include social media content like twitter postings in their eDiscovery plans and be sure to warn all custodians about deleting/editing  social media content once litigation is anticipated.