The Internet of Things (IoT): An Attorney's Friend Or eDiscovery Nemesis?

14 April 2020 by John eDiscovery IOT attorney

The Internet of Things (IoT): An Attorney’s Friend Or eDiscovery Nemesis?

Takeaway: The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of electronic devices (like watches, Fitbits, security cameras, etc.) that ‘talk’ to each other, sharing information. It’s the latest type of digital trail and promises to produce vast quantities of eDiscovery data. But we don’t quite know how it will evolve. So how do we prepare for it? We need to set up eDiscovery systems that can adapt to this changing data landscape. And for that, we begin by finding dependable eDiscovery software.

In November 2015, James Bates of Bentonville, Arkansas, was accused of killing his friend, Victor Collins.

The duo had spent the night drinking at Bates’ house, following which, Bates claims he went to sleep. But the next day Collins was found dead – face down in Bates’ hot tub. Bates insisted it was an accident, but the police found blood and broken bottles near the bathtub. So, they suspected foul play.

Here’s the unusual part, though: There was a witness to the events. But it wasn’t human. Rather, it was a ‘smart’ device.

Amazon’s Echo was streaming music that whole night. And Benton County prosecutors wanted Amazon to hand over any audio or transcripts it might have captured. After a long battle, Amazon finally provided the requested evidence. Prosecutors dismissed the charges soon after, though, so we don’t know what the smart speaker had recorded. But we do know that everyday devices – and the data they collect – are beginning to play an important role in modern law.

If a single device could potentially help a solve a case, imagine what a network of them would do? Imagine an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).

What if you’re pulling into your garage and your car tells your home security system to disarm itself? And it tells your bedroom’s air conditioner to turn on, which in turn activates the mood lighting? All this without you doing a thing! These sorts of internet-connected gadgets sharing data are called the Internet of Things (IoT). Today, there are billions of these smart devices (Fitbits, Apple watches, Nest home security cameras, Amazon’s Alexas, etc.) sharing trillions of gigabytes of data a year. It’s a huge step forward in blending our physical and digital universes. But it also means that each device in this IoT is collecting information about us.

The IoT is the latest type of data trail. It’s a digital fingerprint of our daily activity.

We first started using emails as evidence. Then came smartphones and social media. Now we have data coming from sources we don’t even think about. For example, a company could potentially track our daily activity just by looking at our Fitbit’s data. I.e., our heart rate, steps taken, calories burnt, etc. In fact, that’s already happened in Connecticut. A husband was charged with murdering his wife when her Fitbit’s data showed activity levels significantly different from his description of how the death occurred.

And the IoT isn’t useful for just criminal cases.

The same Fitbits and Echos are useful in personal injury cases (tracking activity levels around the time of the incident), matrimonial disputes (record incriminating conversations) and a host of similar litigation.

But the IoT brings up a lot of questions for eDiscovery.

The legal community is still trying to understand the processes and technology involved. Here are some of the issues.

  1. Who owns the data? Does the information collected by your Fitbit belong to you or the manufacturer? If users think they don’t have any control over data privacy, they might not bring their devices in.
  2. How do you find and collect the data? By definition, the data is part of a network of devices. So, you’ll have to search multiple sources to find it. And each source might have a different owner you’ll need to negotiate with. Also, the data is often automatically uploaded to the Cloud, where you have even less control over it.
  3. How do you protect and authenticate the data? The more the devices and the longer the chain of transfer, the more you have to worry about authenticating the data you get. Also, hackers can breach a poorly protected network and tamper with the data.
  4. How do you review the data? The more IoT devices on the market, the more likely you’ll come across data that needs rare or costly proprietary software. And even if you have the software, how readable is the data? Ideally, you want it to be downloadable into a spreadsheet or word file. But that isn’t always an option.
  5. How do you preserve the data? With many IoT devices, you can tamper with data (intentionally, or by mistake) just by restarting the device, cutting off the power or internet connection, or moving out of WiFi range (so the data can’t sync with the Cloud).
  6. How do you keep it cost-effective? If your client claims she argued with a co-worker while heating coffee in a microwave, is it worth chasing after the ‘smart’ microwave’s activity log? Just because data is available, doesn’t mean it’s worth the time and money to get it.

No-one knows how the IoT will evolve. So, our best bet is to set up adaptable eDiscovery processes.

The Internet of Things is an emergent phenomenon and we don’t quite know where it’s headed. But firms can prepare by setting up and fine-tuning adaptable eDiscovery processes. (Here’s a sample eDiscovery checklist with questions to evaluate your existing processes.)

Central to any of these processes is powerful eDiscovery software.

What we do know about the IoT is that it’ll bring an avalanche of data. So, your eDiscovery software needs to be able to:

  1. Deal with rapidly growing cases. IoT networks could potentially bring in thousands of gigabytes of data, which need to be stored somewhere. That’s why the best eDiscovery applications use the Cloud.
  2. Handle a range of file types. Each IoT device will produce different types of data. And your software has to be able to process those file types.
  3. Process files quickly. Larger volumes of data need software that can work fast and efficiently to meet deadlines.

Looking for powerful-but-affordable eDiscovery software? Try GoldFynch.

It’s part of a new generation of eDiscovery applications tailored for small and midsize law firms.

  • It costs just $27 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing is free). So, choose from a range of plans (3 GB to 150+ GB) and know up front how much you’ll be paying. It takes just a few clicks to move from one plan to another, and billing is prorated – so you’ll pay only for the time you spend on any given plan. With legacy software, pricing is much less predictable.
  • It’s safe. Your data is protected by bank-grade security. Perfect for small and midsize firms.
  • It’s quick to get started. GoldFynch runs in the Cloud, so you use it through your web browser (Google Chrome recommended). No installation. No sales calls or emails. Plus, you get a free trial case (0.5 GB of data and processing cap of 1 GB), without adding a credit card.
  • It’s simple to use. Many eDiscovery applications take hours to master. GoldFynch takes minutes. It handles a lot of complex processing in the background, but what you see is minimal and intuitive. Just drag-and-drop your files into GoldFynch and you’re good to go. Also, you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • It keeps you flexible. To build a defensible case, you need to be able to add and delete files freely. Many applications charge to process each file you upload, so you’ll be reluctant to let your case organically shrink and grow. And this stifles you. With GoldFynch, you get unlimited processing for free.
  • Access it from anywhere. And 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the Cloud, so it’s perfect for when you have to work from home.

Want to find out more about GoldFynch?

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