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Friday, April 15, 2016

The Security of Metadata in Workers' Compensation Claims

Metadata Ethics Opinions Around the U.S.

Confidentiality is a crucial element in workers' compensation matters and the removal of metadata in electronically transmitted documents are a critical factor in the process of maintaining the level of security embraced by the system. Metadata is all hidden data in a PDF file, including text, metadata, annotations, form fields, attachments, and bookmarks.

"....Metadata is loosely defined as "data about data." More specifically, the term refers to the embedded stratum of data in electronics file that may include such information as who authored a document, when it was created, what software was used, any comments embedded within the content, and even a record of changes made to the document.

"While metadata is often harmless, it can potentially include sensitive, confidential, or privileged information. As such, it presents a serious concern for attorneys charged with maintaining confidentiality -- both their own and their clients. Professional responsibility committees at several bar associations around the country have weighed in on attorneys' ethical responsibilities regarding metadata, but the opinions vary significantly. Source: The American Bar Association

The NJ Supreme Court announced yesterday, in an Administrative Determination,  that all documents in electronic format should be "scrubbed" of metadata.

"The Court addressed an important ethical question raised by New Jersey practitioners in the context of their contemporary practice: whether a lawyer who receives an electronic document may, consistent with the rules governing attorney ethics, review metadata in that document. “Metadata” is embedded information in electronic documents that is generally hidden from view in a printed document. Metadata may reflect such information as the author of a document, date(s) on which the document was revised, tracked revisions, and comments inserted in the margins, among other things. This embedded electronic information may include privileged information or other potentially objectionable, private or proprietary information. Following a careful review, the Court adopts the recommendations of the Working Group on Ethical Issues Involving Metadata in Electronic Documents, and makes a number of amendments to the Court Rules regarding electronic documents and metadata. The measures are designed to protect sensitive client data, clarify attorneys’ professional obligations, and foster education programs so that the legal community may be better equipped to meet the unique challenges inherent in exchanging documents electronically -- a modern reality that is ubiquitous in the contemporary practice of law.

“Metadata” is embedded information in electronic documents that is generally hidden from view in a printed copy of a document. It is generated when documents are created or revised on a computer. Metadata may reflect such information as the author of a document, the date or dates on which the document was revised, tracked revisions to the document, and comments inserted in the margins. It may also reflect information necessary to access, understand, search, and display the contents of documents created in spreadsheet, database, and similar applications. This embedded electronic information may include privileged information, information subject to the work product privilege, information that has not been requested in discovery, information that has been requested in discovery but is subject to an objection on which a court has not yet ruled, non-discoverable information, and private or proprietary information. Some metadata is of little or no use to a party or counsel in a litigated dispute or transactional matter. Other metadata is directly material to a factual or legal issue. If the sender has not affirmatively minimized (“scrubbed” or “stripped”) metadata in the document, some information may be revealed by simple computer keystrokes, while other metadata may be “mined” by the use of sophisticated computer software.

Professional programs are available to remove Metadata from electronic documents. See,
Sanitization—Remove hidden data from PDF files with Adobe® Acrobat® XI