eDiscovery Daily Blog

Chain, Chain, Chain: Chain of Custody – eDiscovery Best Practices

If you’re a baseball fan you probably remember Ryan Braun and the reported failed test for performance enhancing drugs that he successfully challenged by challenging the chain of custody associated with his blood sample.  When it comes to electronically stored information (ESI), ensuring proper chain of custody tracking is also an important part of handling that ESI through the eDiscovery process in order to be able to fight challenges of the ESI by opposing parties.  An insufficient chain of custody is a chain, chain, chain of fools.

Information to Track for Chain of Custody

ESI can be provided by a variety of sources and in a variety of media, so you need a standardized way of recording chain of custody for the ESI that you collect within your organization or from your clients.  At CloudNine Discovery, we use a standard form for capturing chain of custody information.  Because we never know when a client will call and ask us to pick up data, our client services personnel typically have a supply of blank forms either in their briefcase or in their car (maybe even both).

Our chain of custody tracking form includes the following:

  • Date and Time: The date and time that the media containing ESI was provided to us.
  • Pick Up or Delivery Location: Information about the location where the ESI was provided to us, including the company name, address, physical location within the facility (e.g., a specific employee’s office) and any additional information important to note where the data was received.
  • Delivering Party: Name of the company and the name of representative of the company providing the media, with a place for that representative to sign for tracking purposes.
  • Delivery Detail (Description of Items): A detailed description of the item(s) being received.  Portable hard drives are one typical example of the media used to provide ESI to us, so we like to describe the brand and type of hard drive (e.g., Western Digital My Passport drive) and the serial number, if available.  Record whatever information is necessary to uniquely identify the item(s).
  • Receiving Party: Name of the company and the name of representative of the company receiving the media, with a place for that representative to sign for tracking purposes.  In our form, that’s usually somebody from CloudNine Discovery, but can be a third party if they are receiving the data from the original source – then, another chain of custody form gets completed for them to deliver it to us.
  • Comments: Any general comments about the transfer of media not already addressed above.

I’ve been involved in several cases where the opposing party, to try to discredit damaging data against them, has attacked the chain of custody of that data to raise the possibility that the data was spoliated during the process and mitigate its effect on the case.  In these types of cases, you should be prepared to have an expert ready to testify about the chain of custody process to counteract those attacks.  Otherwise, you might be singing like Aretha Franklin.

So, what do you think?  How does your organization track chain of custody of its data during discovery?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.