Electronic discovery is the process of collecting and securing digital evidence associated with a civil or criminal case. During the discovery process, both sides involved in a case have an opportunity to collect material they will use in court and they may also be under obligations to share material, depending on the nature of the case and which side is involved. Electronic discovery requires the services of computer professionals to help attorneys correctly obtain and secure evidence so it will be valid in court.
Also known as ediscovery, the process starts with identifying the kind of digital information of interest. Attorneys may want to review chat logs, stored security footage, documents, and other materials. They generate detailed lists, and computer professionals determine where the information can be found. It may be on a single computer or a network. Attorneys file legal requests to gain access to these systems so their personnel can pull out the requested data.
This can include reconstructing damaged or deleted data as well as retrieving information that may be readily available. The electronic discovery process also includes collecting metadata, information about where, when, and how digital records were generated. This can be critical, as it may indicate whether evidence is reliable and applicable to a case. In a chat, for instance, two individuals could reveal evidence that they were planning a crime, or the metadata on a document could support a copyright infringement case by showing who generated the original.
The length of time required for electronic discovery can vary depending on the case and the complexity of the information. Attorneys must work within time limits, as the case will proceed to trial on the date set by the court. If they need more time or find that the other side is failing to comply with discovery requests, they can approach the judge to ask for a court order mandating compliance or extending the trial date to allow more time to collect evidence.
Forensic computer technicians and information technology personnel specializing in legal applications of computer skills are available to assist with the electronic discovery process. It is usually a good idea to rely on these professionals rather than attempting to handle the process independently. They can ensure that all the data is collected and will follow standards and practices to make sure no attacks on the integrity of the evidence can be made in court. A case could be substantially damaged if information was poorly handled and the evidence is compromised.