Legal discovery in the modern era is increasingly challenging as the volumes of digital data that organisations generate continues to escalate. This presents enormous logistical, legal, and forensic challenges, especially when large datasets are involved. My team was recently confronted by such a challenge which involved the examination of 2,500 optical discs, 80 server backups, archive mailboxes for 25,000 staff, and home drives of 10,000 staff. These data sets totalled a staggering 400 million individual items of evidence. Let's examine the major challenges in such a massive digital legal discovery process.

Logistical Challenges

Logistical hurdles are the first barriers to overcome. 400 million pieces of evidence represent an overwhelming volume of data, which presents significant practical difficulties. A pivotal aspect is data transportation. Transferring the data from optical discs, server backups, and individual staff drives to a centralised location for processing is both time-consuming and fraught with risk.

The second aspect is storage. A proper digital infrastructure capable of handling such a colossal amount of data is required. For instance, the data from optical discs and server backups will require terabytes or even petabytes of storage, considering modern discs can store up to 700MB of data and server backups can reach multiple terabytes.

Thirdly, the data processing timescale is a major challenge. The process of extracting, cataloguing, and indexing such a vast quantity of data is likely to be slow, even with the most advanced technology. Parallel processing methods can expedite this, but they add to the complexity and risk of errors.

Legal Challenges

Navigating the labyrinth of privacy regulations and legal compliances adds another layer of complexity. In many jurisdictions, data privacy laws restrict what data can be collected and how it is used. Therefore, it's essential to carefully review these regulations and ensure that the discovery process complies.

Collecting data from 25,000 staff mailboxes and 10,000 staff drives raises significant privacy concerns. The extraction of data may need to be carefully controlled to exclude personal or irrelevant data, a task that requires sophisticated filtering techniques and manual oversight.

Moreover, data collected from different jurisdictions may be subject to different legal regimes. A multinational corporation with staff in various countries would face the task of complying with each country’s data privacy laws, creating an immensely complex matrix of legal requirements.

Forensic Challenges

Forensic analysis of such a large dataset is another daunting task. The key challenges in this process include establishing the integrity of the data, making sense of the data, and preserving the chain of custody.

Data integrity is critical to ensure that the evidence has not been tampered with during collection, transportation, or storage. To maintain this, the legal team must use robust forensic tools that can create hash values or checksums for the data, providing an unalterable record of the data's state at the time of collection.

Making sense of the data is another challenge. 400 million individual items represent a massive quantity of potential evidence, much of which will be irrelevant to the case at hand. Sophisticated data analytics tools are required which can help sort through this mountain of data to identify relevant evidence.

Finally, preserving the chain of custody is crucial in legal proceedings. It must be clear who has accessed the data and when, and any alterations or deletions must be recorded. Given the sheer volume of data, maintaining a precise and reliable log of data custody will require advanced digital forensic tools and processes.

Managing the Process

Overcoming these challenges requires a well-planned, strategic approach to digital legal discovery. Leveraging modern technologies can significantly reduce the logistical and forensic difficulties. However, these technologies must be used judiciously, taking into account legal requirements, particularly those regarding data privacy and protection.

A skilled and knowledgeable legal team is another essential component. Navigating the complexities of the legal environment, particularly in cases involving data from multiple jurisdictions, requires an intimate understanding of the applicable laws.

Working with experienced digital forensic experts is also crucial. They can ensure that the data is collected, transported, and stored in a manner that preserves its integrity and maintains the chain of custody.

Despite these difficulties, digital legal discovery is an inevitable part of the modern legal landscape. It may present significant challenges, but with careful planning, the right technology, and an experienced team, these challenges can be overcome.

In Summary

The massive volume of digital data in today's world offers both opportunities and challenges for legal discovery. When faced with hundreds of millions of pieces of potential evidence across a variety of media, the logistical, legal, and forensic challenges can be overwhelming. However, with a carefully designed approach, incorporating advanced technologies and a skilled team of legal and forensic experts, these challenges can be surmounted. The future of legal discovery is digital, and while the path may be steep, the tools to navigate it are at hand.

Christopher McNaughton

Strategic Advisor, ShadowSight

Who is Christopher McNaughton

Chris is a proficient problem solver with a strategic aptitude for anticipating and addressing potential business issues, particularly in areas such as Insider Threat, Data Governance, Digital Forensics, Workplace Investigations, and Cyber Security. He thrives on turning intricate challenges into opportunities for increased efficiency, offering pragmatic solutions derived from a practical and realistic approach.

Starting his career as a law enforcement Detective, Chris transitioned to multinational organisations where he specialised and excelled in Cyber Security, proving his authority in the field. Even under demanding circumstances, his commitment to delivering exceptional results remains unwavering, underpinned by his extraordinary ability to understand both cyber and business problems swiftly, along with a deep emphasis on active listening.

What is ShadowSight

ShadowSight is an innovative insider risk staff monitoring tool that proactively guards your business against internal threats and safeguards vital data from unauthorised access and malicious activities. We offer a seamless integration with your current systems, boosting regulatory compliance while providing unparalleled visibility into non-compliant activities to reinforce a secure digital environment. By prioritising actionable intelligence, ShadowSight not only mitigates insider threats but also fosters a culture of proactive risk management, significantly simplifying your compliance process without the overwhelming burden of false positives.