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Why Performing A/V Redactions Is a Standard Ediscovery Necessity Today

by Isabela Reid

Two people collaborating together at a desk

It probably shouldn’t surprise you that the volume of digital evidence in the form of audio and video files is rising significantly. Not only that, but the need to protect sensitive data such as personally identifiable information within has never been greater, given the recent strengthening of data privacy laws.

This perfect storm of volume and sensitivity leads to one inevitable conclusion: Your redaction software needs to support audio and video redaction as a standard requirement to support ediscovery workflows.

The Growing Importance of Audio and Video Files in Litigation

Audio files were once the exception within many ESI collections—especially in civil cases. Such data was typically limited to voicemail and call center records, and video files were even more rare. Today, however, the existence of audio/video files is increasingly commonplace within ESI collections for both civil and criminal cases. Modern A/V data is drawn from a variety of sources, including:

Mobile data

Just about everyone carries around an audio/video recorder with them everywhere they go, providing numerous opportunities for creating videos (or audio-only recordings of events) that could someday be discoverable. 

A/V files from mobile devices have become a prime source of evidence for law enforcement, but they frequently apply to civil suits, too.

Social Media

Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are overflowing with audio and video files that can end up in ediscovery. On any typical day, 500 hours of audio/video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

In certain matters, such as labor and employment disputes, social media data is becoming routine, but social A/V files may be relevant to a whole host of potential disputes.

Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Home Devices

Audio and video files from devices like Ring cameras and Amazon Echo smart speakers have become increasingly relevant in criminal cases. While they may not frequently be involved in civil discovery at the moment, that is likely to change with the increased number of remote workers since the pandemic.

Web Conferencing and Collaboration Platforms 

These platforms likely account for the biggest jump in audio/video files within civil cases today, especially since the pandemic. 

Consider the two most popular web conferencing platforms today, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Zoom usage rose from 10 million daily participants in December 2019 to 300 million by April 2020. Teams has also seen a sharp rise in usage—from 2 million users in 2017, up to 145 million by Q2 2021

Business meetings are being recorded more than ever before, due to asynchronous working styles and geographically dispersed teams. As a result, these recordings are increasingly responsive in discovery.

Redacting Sensitive Information in Audio and Video Data

The importance of locating and protecting sensitive information within organizations, especially for individuals, has never been more important. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) led the way in 2018. U.S. state data privacy laws—including the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and its replacement, the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), Virginia’s Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA), the Colorado Privacy Act (CPA) and the Utah Consumer Privacy Act (UCPA)—have also contributed to putting data protection at a premium.

With sensitive information appearing in most ESI today (including audio and video files), A/V redaction capabilities are paramount to ensure that this data is protected when audio and video digital evidence is produced.

Requirements for A/V Redaction in Ediscovery

The best ediscovery platforms will make A/V redaction simple, consistent, and defensible. When selecting the right tool, keep in mind these key requirements: 

  • Support a standard workflow: Audio and video files can appear anywhere within your ESI collection, so the platform needs to be able to support the review and redaction of those files as they are encountered in review. While there are times where you may need to conduct a specialized review of A/V files, you shouldn’t be forced to do so.

  • Auto transcription: Transcription of A/V files is essential for identifying sensitive information within those recordings, so the ability to automatically generate searchable transcripts is critical. 

Afterall, it’s far more effective to search for sensitive information across a transcript than it is to watch or listen to an entire A/V file in an attempt to spot information to be redacted. But using an outside transcription service for transcriptions can be problematic, costly, and challenging to link the transcripts back to the source A/V files. Autotranscription eliminates these pain points. 

  • Stamp and annotate redactions: As is the case with redactions applied to documents, the redaction software should enable you to apply a stamp and note for A/V redactions, indicating the reason for redaction.

  • Easy edit and deletion of redactions: Just like with document redactions, redactions of A/V files often need to be edited to change the scope or deleted if it’s decided that the redaction is not needed. It should be simple to edit and delete redactions that have been applied.

  • Support redaction via the A/V file and via the transcript: It’s important to be able to apply redactions through either the audio or video file, or by identifying text within the transcript and applying it to the A/V file. 

Sometimes, it can be easier to select text within the transcript to identify the scope of sensitive information to be protected. However, there may be instances where it’s preferable to apply the redaction directly to the A/V file, as may be the case with video, without corresponding text in the transcript.

modern ediscovery platform will provide an integrated, streamlined method for redacting A/V files. For example, in Everlaw users can indicate the portions of the file that should be redacted by simply marking a “start” and “stop” point in the file, or by directly selecting text from the auto-generated transcript. From there, users can edit, delete, and preview the redactions with just a few clicks, which are then prepared for production with a corresponding text transcript. 

This process reduces friction in ediscovery, simplifying the process of mining through A/V data and allowing users to investigate with speed, security, and ease.

With the considerable increase in audio and video files in ESI collections and the increased importance in identifying sensitive information within those collections, A/V redactions in ediscovery can no longer be considered exception processing. Today, redactions of audio/video files are table stakes for modern ediscovery tools. 

If you cannot handle these tasks currently, you’ll want to take action to ensure that you have the required tools and capabilities you need to perform these increasingly common redactions within standard ediscovery workflows.