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Mr. Backup on Data Deduplication and Compliance

A couple of months ago, my co-blogger Tory Skyers wrote a post questioning the impact of data deduplication on evidence preservation and chain of custody best practices for e-discovery data.

It’s a question many users are asking, apparently, as “Mr. W. Backup”, GlassHouse Technologies vice president of data protection services W. Curtis Preston recently addressed it on his Mr. Backup Blog. First, Curtis brings up the fact that if today’s legal standards for electronic evidence considered dedupe/compression a change in the data rendering it inadmissable, data from tapes (naturally compressed) wouldn’t be admissible either.

But Curtis also brings up another interesting point, and this is where I think the e-discovery waters have been muddied by everyone and their brother positioning products for that space. He writes:

You have to address the entire chain of custody.  Let me give an example.  If every email that is sent or received by an email system is immediately archived and stored in an archiving system that can demonstrated for anyone concerned when/where an email came from and how long it has been stored, you could use that system to build a non-repudiatable source of data that could be used in legal proceedings.  (It’s not just about the software, of course, as you have to address access and all other kinds of issues, but that would be a start.)  BUT, IMHO, non-repudiation requirements have much more to do with proving chain of custody than they do with the content of the data, and dedupe systems are just as good at proving that as any other storage system — [in other words] they don’t.  It’s usually up to the system that put the data in there and took it out.

I think Preston raises many good points, but this doesn’t negate some of the points Skyers also raised. Among the biggest: “Are we sure our legislators understand the differences between a zip (lossless) and JPEG (lossy) compression?…The answer to these questions, while second nature for us technology folks, may not so second nature for the people deciding court cases.”

If IT pros are mulling and chewing over this question, you can be sure lawyers are, too. And out of the pool of citizens that could make up a jury of your peers, how many would immediately understand Preston’s paragraph above?

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