E-discovery rules add summer IT work for schools

Districts face heavy workload to comply with new federal regs

School districts nationwide face an especially difficult IT assignment this summer: to create systems that ensure compliance with new federal electronic discovery regulations.

September 2005 updates to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) require that electronic documents -- including e-mail and perhaps even instant messaging logs -- be available as evidence in civil court cases. Observers note that widespread enforcement of the rules will likely begin by the end of 2007, a year later than expected (see "New e-discovery rules go into effect in December ").

Jay Attiya, K-12 network manager for the Middletown Township School District in Monmouth County, N.J., said that archiving all electronic data could prove especially difficult for small IT organizations in regional or local school districts.

“By and large, in the past, [FRCP] rules really didn’t pertain to [K-12 school districts like] they did to the Enron’s of the world,” Attiya said. “But now we are being pointed in that direction, so we have to take steps to be prepared. You have to be able to show [a federal court] that you can produce everything.” 

On the advice of the school district’s attorney, Middletown school administrators earlier this year ordered that all bidirectional e-mail communication be stored, retrievable and archived for at least three years, Attiya said.

This summer’s e-discovery project will include installing VMware, EMC Corp.’s virtualization software, on 12 of the district’s 70 Windows 2000- and 2003-based servers, he said.

The VMware software will boost the virtualization capabilities of the district’s EMC Clariion disk-based AX-100 and CX-10 storage systems. The project calls for adding Fibre Channel drives to one tray in a CX-10 box, which will be used for virtualized images, and Serial ATA arrays in the other tray to support new e-mail archiving procedures. 

The district also plans to install CommVault Systems Inc.’s Data Archiver and Data Migrator modules during the summer, Attiya said. The modules will run alongside the CommVault Galaxy backup and recovery software now used by the district, he added.

The archiving effort will require between 500GB and 1TB of new storage capacity, which will be taken care of with one new CX-10 array and the virtualization capabilities, Attiya said.

So far, experts say, few organizations of any size are prepared for the new rules. For example, 83% of 336 senior technology executives surveyed at the EMC World user conference last month by storage software vendor DiscoveryBox and consultant Strategic Discovery Inc. said that they aren’t yet meeting the requirements.

A lack of preparation could prove dire for K-12 school districts, which oftentimes lack technical proficiency, funding and legal expertise, said Robert Ayers, technology coordinator for the Kingston, Pa.-based Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 school district.

Districts that do complete such projects will improve their ability to defend themselves if lawsuits are filed against them by students, their families or employees, by providing proof of electronic actions, Ayers noted.

Without such capabilities, he said, “what are these people in these districts going to do when approached by law enforcement saying ‘we need to know what John Doe did during third period on Tuesday?"

This summer, Ayers said he plans to offer eight of Unit 18’s 14 districts access to Guidance Software Inc.’s EnCase Enterprise Automated Incident Response Suite and EnCase eDiscovery Suite to enable e-mail retention for retrieval. The capabilities will be provided to the remaining six districts over the next two years as their contracts with other vendors expire, he said.

Litigation expert Richard B. Friedman, a partner at Dreier LLP, a New York-based law firm, suggested that districts first draw up a customized plan of action before diving into e-discovery projects.

“There is clearly the possibility of overreaction to these rules,” said Friedman. “Right now everybody should be doing everything the rules say because the rules are in effect, but right now in the real world,” they’re not yet being enforced.

He said that as federal judges over the next six months become familiar with the technology used to archive files, enforcement efforts will likely become stronger.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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