Lawyers' Ethical Responsibilities Relating to Metadata
It so happens that the American Bar Association website has recently updated its list of professional ethics opinions from around the United States concerning the handling of metadata:
"(...) the term refers to the embedded stratum of data in electronics file that may include such information as who authored a document, when it was created, what software was used, any comments embedded within the content, and even a record of changes made to the document."Earlier posts from Library Boy on the topic include:
"While metadata is often harmless, it can potentially include sensitive, confidential, or privileged information. As such, it presents a serious concern for attorneys charged with maintaining confidentiality -- both their own and their clients. Professional responsibility committees at several bar associations around the country have weighed in on attorneys' ethical responsibilities regarding metadata, but there is no clear consensus on the major metadata issues. To help track current views on metadata and ethics, we've assembled the following chart."
- Metadata in Word Documents Can be a Legal Minefield (May 12, 2005): "Could it be that Law Society regulations prohibit lawyers from taking advantage of another lawyer's lack of sophistication or of another lawyer's error, where that error is to divulge privileged or confidential information via metadata? In other words, if a non-tech-savvy lawyer e-mails a contract, and if that contract contains hidden text or comments or track changes that give away his or her client's negotiating tactics or position, or the client's questions or comments, is there an obligation on the part of the recipient lawyer to avoid opening the document?"
- Risks of Metadata Factsheet from Privacy Commisioner (July 31, 2006): "The ability to view other people’s comments and suggested changes to a document, using the Track Changes feature [in office productivity applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, or Corel WordPerfect] is central to collaborating with co-workers on a project. However, changes that are not accepted still remain with the document, even though they are not readily visible (they can be displayed by turning on the 'Show markup view') and could be inadvertently exposed to unauthorized individuals whenever the document is shared..."
- Dealing with the "Meta Menace" (September 6, 2006): "Problems can arise if law firms send files to clients or opposing counsel that still contains markup. It may as well be hard copy full of sticky notes. Consequences may include a compromised bargaining position and violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Laws governing metadata are still in their infancy, but early precedents permit tech-savvy counsellors to freely read any metadata they find, much as they would a forgotten sticky"
- U.S. Lawyers Allowed to Snoop on Hidden Metadata (November 6, 2006): "The American Bar Association (ABA) has ruled that lawyers are allowed to look at and use the hidden metadata that may have been inadvertently included in electronic legal documents they receive, even if sent to them by mistake by opposing counsel."
- New Guidelines For Practicing Ethically With New Information Technologies (September 14, 2008): "The Canadian Bar Association has released Guidelines for Practicing Ethically with New Information Technologies: ... The Guidelines examine issues such as confidentiality, encryption, privilege, court rules on electronic storage, metadata, security of information, marketing practices, intellectual property issues regarding software, and participation by lawyers in online discussion fora."
- Metadata - Lawyers' Ethical Duties (January 6, 2009): "LLRX.com has just published an article entitled 'Metadata - What Is It and What Are My Ethical Duties?' (...) 'The ethical implications of one lawyer examining the metadata in a file received from another lawyer have generated a lot of discussion. This article will cover the legal ethics opinions issued so far and give you tips on how to avoid exposing confidential information unintentionally via metadata'. "