Category Archives: Social Media Investigations

ILTA eDiscovery Survey Reflects Increased Social Media Discovery

The International Legal Technology Association recently published a very informative and comprehensive law firm eDiscovery practice survey “2016 Litigation and Practice Support Technology Survey.” ILTA received responses from 204 different law firms — small, medium and large — on a variety of subjects, including eDiscovery practice trends and software tool usage.  The survey reveals three key takeaways regarding social media and website discovery.

The first clear takeaway is that social media discovery is clearly increasing among law firms and in the field in general. 77 percent of responding law firms reported conducting social media discovery in 2016, a 12 percent increase over 2015. Additionally, the responding firms reported a higher average volume of cases involving social media evidence, with a 23 percent increase in firms handling at least 4 matters per year involving social media evidence. (See Survey at pg. 23)

In terms of identified software solution usage, the survey establishes that X1 Social Discovery is the clear leader in the web and social media capture category among purpose-built tools used by law firms. 24 percent of all law firms rely on X1 Social Discovery on either an in-sourced or outsourced basis. The survey also reflects that X1 Social is the number one process used by eDiscovery service providers, by far surpassing the next common process of screen capturing. This is consistent with our own internal data, reflecting the industry’s standardization of social media evidence collection by the sheer volume of customers that have adopted X1 Social Discovery. Nearly 200 law firms and 500 eDiscovery services firms have at least one paid license of X1 Social Discovery. So while X1 Social Discovery is very popular with law firms, it is even more widely used by eDiscovery service providers.

ILTA survey2

Utilization of X1 Social also registered in the separate category of webmail collections.

The final takeaway is that the practice of using screen captures with general IT tools like Adobe and Snagit is still commonly employed by practitioners at law firms, but is virtually non-existent amongst service providers, who typically are on the forefront of adapting best practices. Screen capturing is neither effective nor defensible. It is ineffective because the results are very narrow and incomplete, and the process is very labor intensive resulting in much higher costs to the client than using best practices. (See Stallings v. City of Johnston, 2014 WL 2061669 (S.D. Ill. May 19, 2014), law firm spent full week screen capturing contents of Facebook account — which amounted to over 500 printed pages — manually rearranging them, and then redacting at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars).

In addition, simple screen captures are not defensible, with several courts disallowing or otherwise calling into question social media evidence presented in the form of a screen shot image. This scrutiny will only increase with Federal Rule of Evidence 902(14) coming into effect later this year. I have previously addressed Rule 902(14) at length on this blog, but in a nutshell, screen captures are not Rule 902(14) compliant, while best practices technology like X1 Social Discovery have the critical ability to collect all available metadata and generate a MD5 checksum, or “hash value,” of the preserved data for verification of the integrity of the evidence. The generation of hash values is a key component for meeting the requirements of FRE 902(14).

The ILTA Litigation Practice survey results can be accessed here. For more information about how to conduct effective social medial investigations, please contact us, or request a free demo version of X1 Social Discovery.

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New Federal Rule of Evidence to Directly Impact Computer Forensics and eDiscovery Preservation Best Practices

At X1, an essential component of our mission is to develop and support exceptional technology for collecting electronic evidence to meet eDiscovery, investigative and compliance requirements. It is also our goal to keep you abreast of important developments in the industry that could ultimately impact collection strategies in the future and, consequently, your business.  To that end, I recently learned about a crucial new legal development scheduled to take place on December 1, 2017, which we believe will have a very significant impact on the practices of our customers and partners.

In a nutshell, the new development is a significant planned amendment to Federal Rule of Evidence 902 that will go into effect one year from now. This amendment, in the form of new subsection (14), is anticipated by the legal community to significantly impact eDiscovery and computer forensics software and its use by establishing that electronic data recovered “by a process of digfederalrulesofevidence-188x300_flat2ital identification” is to be self-authenticating, thereby not routinely necessitating the trial testimony of a forensic or technical expert where best practices are employed, as certified through a written affidavit by a “qualified person.” Notably, the accompanying official Advisory Committee notes specifically reference the importance of both generating “hash values” and verifying them post-collection as a means to meet this standard for self-authentication. This digital identification and verification process can only be achieved with purpose-built computer forensics or eDiscovery collection and preservation tools.

Rule 902, in its current form, enumerates a variety of documents that are presumed to be self-authenticating without other evidence of authenticity. These include public records and other government documents, notarized documents, newspapers and periodicals, and records kept in the ordinary course of business. New subpart (14) will now include electronic data collected via a process of digital identification as a key addition to this important rule.

Amended Rule 902, in pertinent part, reads as follows:

Rule 902. Evidence That Is Self-Authenticating
The following items of evidence are self-authenticating; they require no extrinsic evidence of authenticity in order to be admitted:
* * *
(14) Certified Data Copied from an Electronic Device, Storage Medium, or File.
Data copied from an electronic device, storage medium, or file, if authenticated by a process of digital identification, as shown by a certification of a qualified person that complies with the certification requirements of Rule 902(11) or (12).

The reference to the “certification requirements of Rule 902(11) or (12)” is a process by which a proponent seeking to introduce electronic data into evidence must present a certification in the form of a written affidavit that would be sufficient to establish authenticity were that information provided by a witness at trial. This affidavit must be provided by a “qualified person,” which generally would be a computer forensics, eDiscovery or information technology practitioner, who collected the evidence and can attest to the requisite process of digital identification utilized.

In applying Rule 902(14), the courts will heavily rely on the accompanying Judicial Conference Advisory Committee notes, which provide guidance and insight concerning the intent of the laws and how they should be applied. The Advisory Committee notes are published alongside the statute and are essentially considered an extension of the rule. The second paragraph of committee note to Rule 902(14) states, in its entirety, as follows:

“Today, data copied from electronic devices, storage media, and electronic files are ordinarily authenticated by ‘hash value.’ A hash value is a number that is often represented as a sequence of characters and is produced by an algorithm based upon the digital contents of a drive, medium, or file. If the hash values for the original and copy are different, then the copy is not identical to the original. If the hash values for the original and copy are the same, it is highly improbable that the original and copy are not identical. Thus, identical hash values for the original and copy reliably attest to the fact that they are exact duplicates. This amendment allows self-authentication by a certification of a qualified person that she checked the hash value of the proffered item and that it was identical to the original. The rule is flexible enough to allow certifications through processes other than comparison of hash value, including by other reliable means of identification provided by future technology.”

The Advisory Committee notes further state that Rule 902(14) is designed to streamline the admission of electronic evidence where its foundation is not at issue, while providing a notice procedure where “the parties can determine in advance of trial whether a real challenge to authenticity will be made, and can then plan accordingly.” While this rule provides that properly certified electronic data is now afforded a strong presumption of authenticity, the opponent may still lodge an objection, but the opponent now has the burden to overcome that presumption.  Additionally, the opponent remains free to object to admissibility on other grounds, such as relevance or hearsay.

Significant Impact Expected

While Rule 902(14) applies to the Federal Courts, the Rules of Evidence for most states either mirror or closely resemble the Federal Rules of Evidence, and it is thus expected that most if not all 50 states will soon adapt this amendment.

Rule 902(14) will most certainly and significantly impact computer forensics and eDiscovery practitioners by reinforcing best practices. The written certification required by Rule 902(14) must be provided by a “qualified person” who utilized best practices for the collection, preservation and verification of the digital evidence sought to be admitted. At the same time, this rule will in effect call into question electronic evidence collection methods that do not enable a defensible “digital identification” and verification process. In fact, the Advisory Committee notes specifically reference the importance of computer forensics experts, noting that a “challenge to the authenticity of electronic evidence may require technical information about the system or process at issue, including possibly retaining a forensic technical expert.”

In the eDiscovery context, I have previously highlighted the perils of both custodian self-collection for enterprise ESI collection and “print screen” methods for social media and website preservation. Rule 902(14) should provide the final nail in the coffin for those practices. For instance, if key social media evidence is collected through manual print screen, which is not a “process of digital identification” under Rule 902(14), then not only will the proponent of that evidence fail to take advantage of the efficiencies and cost-savings provided by the rule, they will also invite heightened scrutiny for not preserving the evidence utilizing best practices. The same is true for custodian self-collection in the enterprise. Many emails and other electronic documents preserved and disclosed by the producing party are often favorable to their case.  Without best practices utilized for enterprise data collection, such as with X1 Distributed Discovery, that information may not be deemed self-authenticating under this new rule.

In the law enforcement field, untrained patrol officers or field investigators are too often collecting electronic evidence in a manual and haphazard fashion, without utilizing the right tools that qualify as a “process of digital identification.” So for an example, if an untrained investigator collects a web page via the computer’s print screen process, that printout will not be deemed to be self-authenticating under Rule 902(14), and will face significant evidentiary hurdles compared to a properly collected web page via a solution such as X1 Social Discovery.

Also being added to Federal Rule of Evidence 902 is subpart (13), which provides that “a record generated by an electronic process or system that produces an accurate result” is similarly self-authenticating. This subpart will also have a beneficial impact on the computer forensics and eDiscovery field, but to a lesser degree than subpart (14). I will be addressing Rule 902(13) in a future post. The public comment period on amendments (13) and (14) is now closed and the Judicial Conference of the United States has issued its final approval. The amendments are currently under review by the US Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court approves these amendments as expected, they will become effective on December 1, 2017 absent Congressional intervention.

To learn more about this Rule 902(14) and other related topics, we’d like to invite you to watch this 45 minute webinar discussion led by David Cohen, Partner and Chair of Records & eDiscovery Group at Reed Smith LLP. The 45 minute webinar includes a Q&A following the discussion. We look forward to your participation.

Watch now > 

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LTN: Social Media Evidence Even More Important than email and “Every Litigator” Needs to Address It

legaltech-news-thumbBrent Burney, a top eDiscovery tech writer of Legaltech News, recently penned a detailed product review of X1 Social Discovery after his extensive testing of the software. (Social Media: A Different Type of E-Discovery Collection, Legaltech News, September 2016). The verdict on X1 Social Discovery is glowing, but more on that in bit. Burney also provides very remarkable general commentary on how social media and other web-based evidence is essential for every litigation matter, noting that “email does not hold a flicker of a candle to what people post, state, admit and display in social media.” In emphasizing the critical importance of social media and other web-based evidence, Burney notes that addressing this evidentiary treasure trove is essential for all types and sizes of litigation matters.

Consistent to that point, there is a clear dramatic increase in legal and compliance cases involving social media evidence. Top global law firm Gibson Dunn recently reported that “the use of social media continues to proliferate in business and social contexts, and that its importance is increasing in litigation, the number of cases focusing on the discovery of social media continued to skyrocket.” Undoubtedly, this is  why Burney declares that “every litigator should include (X1 Social Discovery) in their technical tool belt,” and that X1 Social Discovery is “necessary for the smallest domestic issue all the way up to the largest civil litigation matter.” Burney bases his opinion on both the critical importance of social media evidence, and his verdict on the effectiveness of X1 Social Discovery, which he lauds as featuring an interface that “is impressive and logical” and providing “the ideal method” to address social media evidence for court purposes.

From a legal commentary standpoint, two relevant implications of the LTN article stand out. First, the article represents important peer review, publication and validation of X1 Social Discovery under the Daubert Standard, which includes those factors, among others, as a framework for judges to determine whether scientific or other technical evidence is admissible in federal court.

Secondly, this article reinforces the view of numerous legal experts and key Bar Association ethics opinions, asserting that a lawyer’s duty of competence requires addressing social media evidence. New Hampshire Bar Association’s oft cited ethics opinion states that lawyers “have a general duty to be aware of social media as a source of potentially useful information in litigation, to be competent to obtain that information directly or through an agent, and to know how to make effective use of that information in litigation.” The New York State Bar similarly weighed in noting that “A lawyer has a duty to understand the benefits and risks and ethical implications associated with social media, including its use as a … means to research and investigate matters.” And the America Bar Association recently published Comment [8] to Model Rule 1.1, which provides that a lawyer “should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”

The broader point in Burney’s article is that X1 Social Discovery is enabling technology that provides the requisite feasibility for law firms, consultants, and other practitioners to transition from just talking about social media discovery to establishing it as a standard practice.  With the right software, social media collections for eDiscovery matters and law enforcement investigations can be performed in a very scalable, efficient and highly accurate process. Instead of requiring hours to manually review and collect a public Facebook account, X1 Social Discovery can collect all the data in minutes into an instantly searchable and reviewable format.

So as with any form of digital investigation, feasibility (as well as professional competence) often depends on utilizing the right technology for the job.  As law firms, law enforcement, eDiscovery service providers and private investigators all work social discovery investigations into standard operating procedures, it is critical that best practices technology is incorporated to get the job done. This important LTN review is an emphatic punctuation of this necessity.

 

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Hundreds of Thousands of Legal Cases Estimated to Address Social Media in 2016

As part of our ongoing effort to monitor legal developments concerning social media evidence, we again searched online legal databases of state and federal court decisions across the United States — this time to identify the number of cases in the last 12 month period ending August 26, 2016 — where evidence from social networking sites played a sigsocial-media-courtsnificant role. The initial search returned over 14,000 results. That is far too many to review manually, but through random sampling to eliminate duplicates and de minimis entries — defined as cases with merely cursory or passing mentions of social media sites — we counted over 9,500 cases accessible through Westlaw. This represents over a 50 percent increase from 2015.

And as only a very small number of cases — approximately one percent of all filed cases — involve a published decision or brief that we can access online, it is safe to assume that hundreds of thousands more cases involved social media evidence during this time period. Additionally, these cases do not reflect the presumably many hundreds of thousands of more instances where social media evidence was relevant to a corporate or law enforcement investigation yet did not evolve into actual litigation. Even so, this limited survey is an important metric establishing the ubiquitous nature of social media evidence, its unequivocal and compelling importance, and the necessity of best practices technology to search and collect this data for litigation and compliance requirements.

The cases were generally split evenly between criminal and civil matters. The civil matters often involved personal injury/insurance claims, employment cases, family law disputes, and copyright/intellectual property. The following are a brief synopsis of some notable cases from the survey:

US v. Brown (D.C. No. 3-13-cr-00037-001) (3rd Circuit August 25, 2016). The opening line in the Federal Appellate Court’s opinion reads: “The advent of social media has presented the courts with new challenges in the prosecution of criminal offenses, including in the way data is authenticated under the Federal Rules of Evidence—a prerequisite to admissibility at trial.” The court goes on to rule that social media is not self-authenticating but must be authenticated through extrinsic or circumstantial evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 901. I have previously addressed this issue concerning utilizing circumstantial evidence to authenticate social media evidence under Rule 901 and how social media investigation software is instrumental for that purpose.

Stewart v. State of Iowa (No. 14-0583) (C.A. Iowa, August 17 2016). Defendant brought a motion for mistrial after it was discovered (post-trial) through key Facebook evidence that several jurors appeared to be associated with the key witness, despite those jurors’ denials during voir dire. However, the court disallowed the screenshots of the Facebook pages as lacking proper authentication and denied the motion for mistrial. This case underscores the necessity of a timely and proper social media investigation (not mere screen shots), as well as the general importance of conducting social media due diligence on prospective and empaneled jurors.

State of Louisiana v. Demontre Smith, (La. Court of Appeals, April 20, 2016) In yet another court decision illustrating why software that supports best practices is needed to properly collect and preserve social media evidence, the Louisiana appellate court, 4th Circuit, issued a written opinion in a felony criminal case disallowing key social media evidence due to a lack of authenticity. Under cross-examination, the police officer, who offered the evidence in the form of screen shots, conceded that she lacked any corroborating circumstantial evidence to support the authentication of the social media posts. The appellate court ultimately ruled: “We find the social media posts the state seeks to introduce at trial were not properly authenticated, as the state presented no evidence in order to carry its burden at the hearing.”

Xiong vs. Knight Transportation, (D.C. No. 1:12-CV-01546-RBJ) (D. Colo. July 27, 2016). This case arose out of a personal injury from a major rollover traffic accident and illustrates the importance of performing a diligent and timely social media evidence investigation. The jury awarded the Plaintiff $832,000, finding that she incurred severe pain from her injuries, which impacted her social life and daily activities. Post-trial, a paralegal for the defense counsel found a litany of Facebook evidence apparently showing the Plaintiff taking a trip to Las Vegas, visiting nightclubs, attending a wedding and smiling happily with friends at restaurants. Despite this newly discovered Facebook and Facebook-derived evidence, the district court denied Knight Transportation’s motion, finding that “the new (Facebook) evidence could have been discovered before trial and Knight offered no justification for its failure to develop it earlier.”

In addition to case law, another metric reflecting the industry’s standardization of social media evidence collection is the sheer volume of sophisticated customers that have now adopted X1 Social Discovery. Over 400 eDiscovery and computer forensics services firms have at least one paid copy of X1 Social Discovery. I cannot think of a single service provider in the eDiscovery space that performs at least some ESI collection services that does not have at least one paid X1 Social license. Social media evidence collection is now a standard practice in many law enforcement matters as well.

So, if you are one of the minority of digital investigative or eDiscovery professionals who have not adopted X1 Social Discovery, please contact us for a demo today.

 

 

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Key Social Media Evidence Missed, Court Finds “No Justification” for Defense Counsel’s Failure to Perform Adequate Pre-Trial Social Media Investigation

Law Journal for webLast week the US District Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, affirmed a trial court’s ruling denying a motion for new trial based in part on newly discovered (post trial) social media evidence. Xiong vs. Knight Transportation, (D.C. No. 1:12-CV-01546-RBJ) (D. Colo. July 27, 2016). This decision illustrates the importance of performing a diligent and timely social media evidence investigation, most certainly before trial.

The case involved a major traffic collision, where a Knight Transportation truck collided with Plaintiff’s car, forcing it into the median where it overturned multiple times. Xiong suffered a spinal compression fracture from the accident. The Plaintiff, her family and friends all testified at trial that she incurred severe pain from her injuries, which impacted her social life and daily activities. The jury awarded Xiong $832,000.

After the trial, a paralegal employed by Knight Transportation’s counsel found a litany of Facebook evidence apparently showing Xiong taking a trip to Las Vegas, visiting nightclubs, attending a wedding and smiling happily with friends at restaurants. Based upon the results of this Facebook investigation, Knight Transportation’s counsel hired a private investigator to follow Xiong and record her daily activities, which led to even further evidence supporting the defense’s case.

Citing this newly discovered Facebook and Facebook-derived evidence, Defendant Knight Transportation filed a motion for new trial. However, the district court denied Knight Transportation’s motion, finding that “the new (Facebook) evidence could have been discovered before trial and Knight offered no justification for its failure to develop it earlier.” The appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision.

A key apparent flaw in Knight Transport’s social media investigation, as suggested by the court’s written opinion, was that the investigation team seemingly only realized after it was too late that a Facebook page maintained by Plaintiff’s cousin contained social media evidence relevant to the case. This illustrates the importance of not only performing a timely social media investigation, but one that utilizes proper technology to enable a scalable and cost-efficient effort that is not limited to a small number of screen captures.

When rudimentary tools such as web browsers and print screen are used, social media investigations are indeed burdensome, costly and inefficient. A single publically available Facebook account may take hours to review manually, and may often require over 100 screen captures to collect with manual processes. This limits the ability to branch out to other sources of publically available information, such as key friends, spouses and, as in this case, a close cousin.

However, with the right software, such investigations can be the foundation of a very scalable, efficient and highly accurate process. Instead of requiring hours to manually review and collect a public Facebook account, the right specially designed software, like X1 Social Discovery, can collect all the data in minutes into an instantly searchable and reviewable format.

So as with any form of digital investigation, feasibility (as well as professional competence) often depends on utilizing the right technology for the job.  As law firms, law enforcement, eDiscovery service providers and private investigators all work social discovery investigations into standard operating procedures, it is critical that best practices technology is incorporated to get the job done.

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