During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies around the globe pivoted to remote work. Applications like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were already seeing marked increases in user numbers, and the usage of these platforms surged as companies and teams implemented them widely. The substantial increase in adoption of these collaboration platforms means an increase in the propensity for data of interest necessary in litigation.
Hence, eDiscovery professionals and attorneys must understand the nature and structure of these platforms, their accessibility, and how best to preserve and analyze their data types. While there are a number of collaboration applications available today, legal teams should focus on discoverable data from two of the most popular tools: Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Below is an overview of their data types that may be preserved and used as crucial digital evidence.
Zoom meetings can be recorded and saved to a cloud server. On a paid Zoom account, users can elect to export cloud recordings and may include the following features: shared screen with speaker view, shared screen with gallery view, active speaker only, gallery view only, shared screen only, audio only, audio transcript, and meeting chat transcript. Through the ability to export recordings in these various formats, eDiscovery professionals/legal teams can more clearly distinguish meeting participants and their contributions to the recorded session. Or, if purely the content is at the heart of the issues, case teams can lower their data thresholds by acquiring audio-only or transcripts of the proceedings. Further, Zoom’s cloud interface will indicate, for a user, whether their recordings were saved to the cloud, or locally to the presenter’s machine from which they started the meeting. Checking the Recordings’ location tabs will allow the case team to ensure they’ve acquired the appropriate recordings for a custodian of interest.
Chats and messages
Event chat messages or logs, chats from Zoom calls or meetings, are stored in the Zoom cloud and on local devices. Account owners and admins can set the length of time chats are retained, and after the set timeframe, Zoom will delete all messages. However, even if a user deletes locally stored chat messages, admins can access the messages from Zoom’s cloud storage. By default, messages are stored for two years, but it is possible to store them for as long as 10 years or as little as one day.
Other discoverable data types
There are several additional data types that have collection potential from Zoom, most of which are readily identifiable from the “My Account” page of the Zoom web user interface. With a defensible presentation, some or all of the following types of information may be saved to a Zoom user’s profile and/or within the data extracted from it:
- Personally identifiable information: name, username, email address, phone number, account owner name, billing name and address, and payment method, and the phone number dialed by Zoom phone users.
- Account-related information: language preference, hashes of passwords (scrambled representations of the passwords), title, department, and profile photo.
- User-generated content: cloud recordings, transcripts, chat and instant messages, files, whiteboards, and voicemails from Zoom phone users.
- Technical information: user’s device type, network, internet connection, user’s IP, MAC address, unique device identifier (UDID), and other technical information related to hardware and software.
- Geographical location: the nearest city, which can be determined by the phone number an event attendee used to dial into a Zoom call or meeting.
- Metadata: duration of the meeting or call, email address, name, other participant identifying information, meeting name, call data records, and date and time of meeting.
Microsoft Purview, previously Microsoft 365 Compliance, hosts the software’s eDiscovery and compliance tool sets. The ability to use Microsoft 365’s tools depend on the organization’s licensing level. Although more expensive, Microsoft Purview’s “premium” level offers the most extensive eDiscovery capabilities. The Microsoft tools are configured to preserve data with a few clicks and knowledge of the content search capabilities.
Discoverable data types
eDiscovery premium provides for collection of five categories of Teams content. Teams 1:1 chats (aka conversations) include chat messages, posts, and attachments shared in a Teams conversation between two people. Teams group chats (aka group conversations) include chat messages, posts, and attachments shared in a Teams conversation between three or more people. Teams channels include any communications shared in a Teams channel such as chat messages, posts, replies, and attachments. This includes communications in shared teams channels as well. Finally, private channels include all communications shared in a private Teams channel.
Knowing where to locate messages or files with regards to the specific category of Teams content will help speed up collection and increase preservation quality. Microsoft organizes these applications’ data, and the information shared within the overall tenant, in an architecture called “Substrates.” The substrate gives cohesion and coherence to the otherwise disparate data points that enable services like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Teams, etc. Teams 1:1 chats and group chats are stored in the Exchange mailbox of each person in the chat, and shared files are located in the OneDrive business account of the sharer. Teams channels messages are stored in the Exchange mailbox associated with the team, and any files shared in the channels will be located in the SharePoint site associated with the team. Similarly, private channel messages and files are in the mailboxes of all channel members and the corresponding SharePoint site. Regarding shared channels, messages are stored in a system mailbox associated with the shared channel. To search for shared channel messages, the Parent Team’s Exchange mailbox must be specified. Moreover, files in shared channels can be found in a dedicated SharePoint site associated with the shared channel.
While Microsoft 365 Litigation Holds and Purview’s utilities are great for data preservation in many cases, certain matters or clients’ licensure levels may require an outside party for quality preservation efforts. For matters in which an outside partner is engaged, it is vital the partner’s granted access to an administrator’s, or similarly-provisioned account, with the proper permissions to ensure these locations – both where the chats/posts are maintained as well as where files and attachments are stored – can be preserved. Outside preservation tools need the capacity to collect all these data types and locations in the 365 tenant in a manner that the data can be analyzed and reviewed downstream from the collection point.
The universe of tools and technologies available to organizations to facilitate the evolving workplace continues to expand. The platforms continually grow in complexity and are being updated to accommodate new features, user’s needs and security concerns. To stay ahead of the macro and microcosmic expansion in data types and the platforms that generate them, it’s vital for organizations and attorneys to align themselves with trusted technology experts who understand the breadth and the nuance of these technologies.
Kyle Campbell is the Vice President of Litigation Support Services at Frontline Managed Services. He has nearly 20 years of experience in all facets of the industry, including eDiscovery software development, strategic business consulting with an emphasis on eDiscovery and litigation support and working in-house with law firms and e-discovery service providers.
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Reprinted with permission from the Wednesday, May 25th issue of the Legal Intelligencer on Law.com. © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.