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Document Retention and what Google (Inadvertently) Teaches Us

Organizations generate lots of data – data that needs to be protected in reliable media, secured from unauthorized use, and backed up. And of course all of this data, especially historical data such as sales history, contracts, emails, etc. is essential to make decisions pertinent to the future of the organization. More and more organizations turn to a Document Management System (DMS) to store them, providing data organization to ensure easy access and an easy-to find format that also assists with version control and tracks changes, as well as that were applied, while at the same time enforcing retention rules that dictate what must and must not be kept. This forms a repository to ensure data is both secure and can be located easily.

oracle_vs_googleIt’s this background that makes it especially interesting to learn that search giant Google was tripped up by a search engine on documents in their own possession. Click to see PC World’s detailed article on the incident.

But the short version is this – Google is being sued by Oracle for use of a programming technology called Java in their Android phone and tablet operating system. Most lawsuits have a discovery period, in which each litigant turns over all documents pertinent to the case, but can exclude any client-attorney privileged documents. For example, original blueprints of an alleged copycat product must be turned over, but a letter between an attorney for the litigant and the engineer which discusses the blueprints is protected and can be held back from disclosure.

In order to facilitate discovery assembly, legal analysts use tools similar to the Google search engine, which allows them to collect information from across the organization’s systems using keywords like “Java” while at the same time excluding documents with phrases like “attorney work product.” In this case Google was caught by a draft email stored on the server; one of 9 drafts before the final. This particular version stated that Google should license the Java technology from Oracle. But because it was an early draft, it did not include the key phrase “attorney work product,” and was released to Oracle’s attorneys. It may change the case completely.

This illustrates the key point – you need to know what you keep and what you should not keep, and how it is encoded. Document Management Systems can help with this, by setting up and enforcing retention or coding rules, they can automatically add a tag, or delete documents over a certain age.

This Google mess is a cautionary tale… will we learn from it? If you would like an opportunity to discuss how you can put the right systems and polices in place, feel free to drop me an email or place your feedback below.

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