School IT's Assignment: Obey E-discovery Rules

Districts face heavy summer workload to comply with new federal regulations

School districts nationwide face a difficult IT assignment this summer: to create systems that ensure they are compliant with new federal regulations on electronic discovery.

Updates to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which took effect last December, require that electronic documents including e-mail and perhaps even instant messaging logs be available as evidence in civil court cases. Some legal observers noted that they expect widespread enforcement of the rules to begin by the end of this year.

Jay Attiya, K-12 manager of information systems 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 [the FRCP] rules really didnt pertain to us as they did to the Enrons 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 districts attorney, Middletown school administrators earlier this year ordered that all bidirectional e-mail communications be stored and kept retrievable for at least three years, Attiya said.

This summers e-discovery project will include the installation of EMC Corp.s VMware virtualization software on 12 of the districts 70 servers running Windows 2000 and 2003, he said.

The VMware software will boost the virtualization capabilities of the districts EMC Clariion AX-100 and CX-10 disk arrays, according to Attiya. The project calls for adding Fibre Channel drives to one CX-10 tray that will be used for virtualized images, and Serial ATA drives in the other tray to support new email 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 CommVaults Galaxy backup and recovery software, which is already being used by the school district, he added.

Jay Attiya

Jay Attiya The archiving effort will require between 500GB and 1TB of new storage capacity, which will be provided via the addition of one new CX-10 array and the virtualization capabilities, Attiya said. According to legal experts, few organizations, regardless of their size, are prepared for the new FRCP rules. For example, 83% of 336 senior technology executives surveyed at the EMC World user conference last month by storage software vendor DiscoveryBox and consultancy Strategic Discovery Inc. said they arent yet meeting the requirements.

Dire Predictions

A lack of preparation could prove dire for school districts, which often lack technical proficiency, funding and legal expertise, said Robert Ayers, technology coordinator at the Luzerne Intermediate Unit No.18 regional school authority in Kingston, Pa.

Robert Ayers

Robert Ayers School 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, 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?

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

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

There is clearly the possibility of overreaction to these rules, Friedman said. He suggested that everybody should be doing everything the rules say because the rules are in effect but added that right now, in the real world the rules arent yet being enforced.

Friedman 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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