One of the things we do as analysts is take inquiries from readers, typically either in a half hour call or via an email response. Recently, a good inquiry came in, but there was no contact information to send an answer to, so I thought it would be a good idea to answer it here (with the hope that the answer gets to the person that had the question). The question read, “If we have a corporate email solution that strips attachments from emails and replaces them with download links, what are our e-discovery responsibilities? Do we need to be able to produce the attachment, or just the email with the links?”
This question gets to the heart of email archiving and it’s role in eDiscovery. The goal of archiving is multifold: get email off the production mail server to minimize backup windows and reduce storage costs and create a repository of record for long-term preservation (a single source to search, so to speak, for legal). Archiving solutions provide access to email for end-users in a variety of ways. They might strip attachments and leave behind links to them, or leave behind stubs to them.
When it comes to eDiscovery and a company’s obligation, the attachment is a critical part of the message and needs to be produced with the message. I suppose a company could have a policy whereby it disposes of attachments after a certain amount of time and keeps the message longer, but that wouldn’t make a whole lot of logical sense. The beauty of an email archiving solution is that it keeps the attachments in relation to the message, so when searching for keywords, a message will come back even if the keyword is only found in the attachment (a good archiving solution will, anyhow).
To answer the question, “yes, you do need to produce the attachment, not just the email with the links.” Based on the solution outlined, it should not be difficult to do that; it sounds like the solution mentioned would be able to export out both messages and attachments. It’s a good example of the types of things you want to be sure your archiving solution can do before you buy it. Can it produce attachments? Can it search messages and attachments together? Can it single-instance store attachments while still relating the attachment back to all the emails it is associated with?
(Note: At eDJ, we are not lawyers and do not purport to give any legal advice. Rather, this answer is an opinion based on our experience. It’s important that anyone with a question like this run the options past their legal team for final approval.)
We love taking inquiries, so if you have any, submit them here and we’ll get back to you.