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IT Unready for New Rules on Electronic Evidence

As Dec. 1 deadline looms, survey finds some ignorant of new requirements

By Sharon Fisher
November 27, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Many companies don’t appear to be prepared for new federal rules slated to take effect Dec. 1 for electronic discovery of documents in civil cases, according to a survey conducted this month by Computerworld.

About 32% of 170 IT managers and staffers surveyed said they aren’t prepared to meet the requirements of the federal edict, 11% said they are somewhat prepared, while 42% said they don’t know the status of their companies’ preparation.

> The new rules specify requirements for submitting electronic documents — likely including e-mail and perhaps instant messaging logs, depending on future case law — as evidence in civil litigation.

The rules were recommended in September 2005 by the Judicial Conference of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure.

> The rules, described in a 300-plus-page document compiled by the conference, require that companies involved in civil litigation meet within 30 days of the filing to decide how to handle electronic data. The firms must agree on what records are shared and on which electronic format.

Past decisions by courts indicate that penalties for failure to comply could be harsh — and costly. Morgan Stanley was fined $1.5 billion in May 2005 when a judge ruled that it had failed to preserve electronic information.

> James Brady, e-mail administrator in enterprise information services at Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles, said at Computerworld’s Storage Networking World conference in Orlando earlier this month that the rules are a “looming new problem.”

Brady said he spent six months lobbying Cedars-Sinai management to prepare to comply with the rules. The company is spending $5,000 per month copying tapes to make sure data is available.

> Don Green, manager of accounting and information systems at Texas Aromatics LP, a petrochemical company in Houston, said he wasn’t aware of the impending rules changes before receiving the Computerworld survey.

Green plans to work with the company’s legal counsel to ensure that the mandates are met.

Jack McLaine, assistant vice president of MIS at Leesport Financial Corp., said the Wyomissing, Pa.-based financial services firm began taking steps to meet the requirements a year and a half ago — before work on the new rules was officially completed.

> “We knew it was coming,” he said. “We couldn’t say, ‘We’ll do it next year.’ We said, ‘We’ve got to do this now.’”

Leesport spent $60,000 to set up an e-mail archiving system, including document scanning, based on Permabit Inc.’s Dynamic Information Services document management product, McLaine said.

> John Bace, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said that organizations should quickly take steps to develop document retention policies and content management procedures to help protect the organization in case documents are lost.

Ready or Not

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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