Electronically storage information is the norm in our personal lives and even more so in the business world. The ability to store business information electronically allows us to operate more reliably and efficiently. But it is important that business owners understand how to properly generate and maintain such information in the digital age to be prepared for legal action.
Federal and state laws require businesses to maintain a wide variety of electronic business records so that they may be exchanged in litigation. Such exchangeable (or “discoverable”) information is referred to as “Electronic Discoverable Information” or EDI. If a business fails to maintain or secure its EDI, it may derail the case and can lead to court sanctions.
Here are a few tips to ensure your EDI is protected and accessible when you need it:
1. Find out where your data goes. You local IT support may be able to help you with this. If you are your own “IT support,” check your e-mail settings and read your service agreements. What happens to old e-mail? Accounting records? Instant messages and texts? Some of this information is probably stored and archived as a matter of course, while some may be deleted on a frequent basis. It is important that you determine where your information goes so you know where it find it.
2. Know how to access your stored information. This directly follows Tip #1. Once you know where your data is, you need to know how to access it. Is it easily accessible? What is its stored format? Is the stored format transferable? If your information is stored by a third party, how long do they keep it, how long will it take to get it back, and how much will it cost? Again, a review of your service agreements can most likely answer these questions.
3. Know how your information is transferred. Do you handle a lot of business through text or instant messages? If so, you may want to reconsider your business policies. Certain forms of EDI, due to their sheer volume, are not typically maintained long-term by service providers. On the other hand, there may be some issues, such as sensitive employee matters or negotiations, that you do not want forever memorialized as a digital file. Use common sense and set policies that state how employees are to handle their communications. Along those same lines, consider a policy regarding the use of personal electronics for business purposes. For instance, it may be a cost saver to allow employees to use their personal smartphone, but you will have no control over how data transmitted to that device is protected or maintained.
Follow any high profile case these days and you will see how electronic information can become a gift or a nightmare depending on what side of the courtroom you’re on. Take the time to determine how your business’ electronic information will be managed. Think of it as lawsuit insurance.