Thursday, May 12, 2005

Metadata in Word Documents Can be a Legal Minefield

A recent article by Donald B. Johnston, leader of the Technology Practice at Aird & Berlis LLP, explains the many problems that can be caused by the metadata contained in Word documents. The article appears in the April 2005 issue of Privacy Pages, the newsletter of the Canadian Bar Association's National Privacy and Access Law Section.

Typical metadata in Word documents can include:
  • names of authors
  • routing slips
  • version references
  • highlighted changes to a document
  • hidden text
  • comments
  • personal information
The author discusses the professional ethical and risk management dilemmas to which metadata may give rise: "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?"

To avoid these situations, the article proposes a number of ways to reduce the transmission of damaging metadata.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:58 pm

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