New legal discovery rules impact schools

School districts will need to invest more in proper storage and retrieval technology, training and procedures.
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Federal rules that went into effect Dec. 1 will have a broad impact on how schools - and any organization that is involved in litigation - handles its email, IM and other electronic communications. While the addition to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure - upheld in a Supreme Court ruling in April - has clear impacts on businesses and governments, education experts say public school also have to implement the new law for electronic archiving, reports eSchool News

In the past, schools and others nonprofit organizations would archive their email but would routinely write over old archives. The new ruling will force schools to reexamine their storage policies in order to meet the new compliance standards recently set by the Supreme Court.

The ruling states that any organization involved in litigation must be able to produce "electronically stored information." The ruling makes it clear that email messages and electronic documents are part of evidence collection during the discovery process.

Alvin A. Lindsay, a partner with Hogan & Hartson and an expert in technolog law, said prematurely deleting or copying over email documents is akin to "virtual shredding." Lindsay says that schools will have to plan in advance for better backup systems and establish guidelines for the kinds of information that must be saved, deleted and stored so that critical data can be retrieved in the event of a legal dispute.

Schools are already informing teachers and staff about the regulations.

"We have a policy that employees need to sign indicating they have no right to consider anything that they do on our network--including our [voice-over-IP system]--as confidential," wrote Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif.

The task of separating critical data from non-critical communication can be daunting for some school districts, and administrators are turning to companies that offer solutions for tracking, storing, and searching for email communication and other electronic data.

Storage-tracking company inBoxer.has received a five-fold increase in requests for solutions that streamline the search and retrieval of email messages and other electronic information, compared with six months ago.

"Companies used to focus on how they store information. Now, they're focusing on how to retrieve it," said Roger Matus, chief executive officer, said.
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