The frequently used definition of "data about data" provides a simple but adequate explanation for this increasingly important element of electronically stored information (ESI). Without realising it, you have probably viewed metadata many times by clicking on a document's "properties" and checking the date it was created or who last edited it.
The question remains though, why would this concern today's legal practitioners?
Simply put, metadata is evidence.
Preserving a paper document as evidence is relatively simple: take a copy and place the original into storage. In the absence of any fires, floods or malicious tampering, that document will remain in the same state. However, more than 90 per cent of information is stored electronically and preservation of ESI poses unique challenges. Metadata can easily be inadvertently altered. Even copying a file from a computer to a USB can significantly alter the metadata. A Microsoft Exchange email has obvious metadata; sender, recipient or subject. However, there is a total of 26 pieces of metadata attached to a single email.
Metadata can be used to great advantage. For example, in a matter involving a large corporate entity with millions of electronic records and email communications between hundreds of employees, using metadata can limit the documents to only the relevant time period and the individuals involved. Suddenly the task of reviewing the documents is not as daunting.
While the amount of data continues to grow exponentially, today's legal practitioners need to be prepared to manage the data about data. We may see cases where metadata has been incorrectly handled and the courts order reprocessing of the data. This can be time-consuming and would no doubt prove costly to clients.
To ensure electronic data is handled correctly, lawyers can seek expert advice from specialists such as Law In Order's Data Collection experts.