Practical Implications of Scrubbing Metadata

Legal Compliance Resource
October 11, 2012 — 921 views  

Practical Implications of Scrubbing Metadata

Divulging privileged information is an egregious violation of an attorney's duty to the client. A breach of confidentiality can lead to a lawsuit for malpractice if the attorney did not take reasonable measures to secure the client's information. Disclosing confidential client information usually constitutes a breach of the rules of professional conduct. The Bar Association of the state in which the attorney is licensed can disbar him or her if he or she violates the attorney-client privilege.

Most attorneys understand the attorney-client privilege and the consequences of divulging privileged information. However, not all attorneys adequately protect their clients' information. Encrypted partitions and physical security will not sanitize information contained in metadata.

Metadata is data that provides information about data. In the context of a file from a suite of office software, metadata can contain names, addresses, dates, and facts relevant to a client’s case. Disclosing sensitive information can harm a client’s case, exposing the attorney to a suit for malpractice as well as professional sanctions. Attorneys are ethically obligated to keep client information private.

Attorneys should not reuse files when communicating with clients. Reusing a file in an effort to save time is a common way in which careless attorneys disclose confidential information. This risk is pronounced if the attorney represents multiple plaintiffs or defendants for one case. In practice, attorneys may receive information from the client that the attorney must disclose to another party. Alternatively, attorneys may fill in the metadata forms for tracking purposes.

Regardless of how a client’s information gets into the metadata, attorneys should ensure that the document is scrubbed of all identifying information before sending it to another party. By removing metadata from all files distributed by the attorney, the attorney can avoid a breach of confidentiality. Fortunately, stripping metadata from a document is simple.

The process for manually stripping metadata from a file varies depending upon the type of file. Current versions of Microsoft Windows allow individuals to delete metadata from a file. Attorneys are busy individuals and often will not have the time to remove metadata from each file that must be sent.

Metadata removal tools will simplify the process. Some metadata removal tools can strip the metadata from multiple files at once. Attorneys who intend on sending multiple files should use such a program, as it will expedite the removal process and ensure that no client information is released.

 

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