Legal discovery is the process through which attorneys can request to see all documents and data from the opposing counsel before a trial begins. The procedure allows legal teams to better prepare their cases if they have an idea of what they will face from their opposition. Electronic discovery, called e-discovery, is any electronic data that is used in a civil or criminal litigation. E-discovery can include email, videos, audio files, photographs, documents, browser history, or software. E-discovery is relatively new and the legal world is still developing legislation and precedents that establish the rules and regulations of the process. One concern is the right to privacy and the abuse of information.
Requesting e-discovery is a relatively new procedure. The way that e-discovery is delivered and reviewed is more complicated than simply turning over hard copy documents. Electronic data is searchable and contains hidden or additional data known as metadata. When anything is created on a computer, details about the process are recorded. Dates, times, IP addresses, who worked on a particular document, or any details that were altered are all items that can be searched and recorded, even if the user believes they have deleted these details. Computer files are extremely hard to completely destroy, especially for the average user without expert technical knowledge.
There can be legal or ethical fallout from e-discovery if things are discovered that were meant to be confidential. Negotiations, contract details, lawsuits, and personal information that rest within metadata can be exposed through e-discovery. In criminal cases, e-discovery can be used as evidence while lawfully protecting search and seizure rules. Many law firms recognize the growing importance of e-discovery and use sophisticated e-discovery software to organize and search data.