Why Metadata Matters

Metadata is data that summarizes other data. Every file saved on a computer includes some basic information about the file, enabling the computer’s operating system to be able to deal with it. The application in use (e.g., Microsoft Word) creates this behind-the-scenes information describing the information contained on a webpage, email, document, or electronic file. Metadata typically includes information regarding the creation date, author, subject, file type and size, edit history, where the data is stored, how many times it has been assessed or changed, and what was attached to it.

Why Metadata Matters

In the world of ediscovery, metadata is vital because it’s the evidence that tells the story of a document and its relationship to a particular case. During the ediscovery process, legal teams collect electronic files from relevant devices; this is no different than say, collecting paper files from someone’s office.

For example, if someone needs to find out where a paper document came from, who created it, and who received it, they would have to jump through multiple hoops to acquire that information. With electronically-stored information (ESI), this information comes from the metadata, which gives electronic files valuable context and provides a digital paper trail with more detail, which isn’t possible with a paper document.

Types of Metadata

Metadata can fit into several different categories, including:

  • System metadata automatically generates via a computer system, including information such as a document’s title, author, date, time of creation, and modification.
  • Substantive metadata reflects the substantive changes made to a document that moves with the file when shared or copied.
  • Embedded metadata such as text, numbers, content, and other data that is inputted into a native file by a user but not usually visible to the user.

Although metadata describes data, it is not the actual data. It does not provide access to the raw data, instead offering just a few critical details about the file. All files contain metadata, but it can be challenging to find without the help of ediscovery software.

Keeping Metadata Secure

Metadata is delicate and easily altered, often by mistake. For example, the “last accessed” data can change when you open a file, copy it to another computer, burn it to a DVD, or forward an email. However, there are various ways to protect metadata during the ediscovery process:

  • Find out which metadata files you’ll need to preserve.
  • Keep electronic files in their native (original) format.
  • Make copies of files that you will transfer to produce a backup.
  • Keep a document’s metadata intact by moving it via a secure SFTP that requires an authentication process.
  • Document everything that was done during ediscovery to protect the integrity of metadata.

Final Thoughts on Why Metadata Matters

Electronic data must be properly collected so that the original document, including its metadata, can be verified and admitted as evidence at trial. Records regarding the collection process are essential in fighting off challenges to the discovery process.

For more information on why metadata matters and its importance during the ediscovery process, view the Everlaw webinar, “Metadata: The Key to Understanding Your Document Corpus,“ today.