The obligation to secure your opponent's data in the age of hacking

New York Law Journal

Publication September 2019

Data security concerns have increased in the past several years, as hacking, corporate espionage and data breaches are on the rise around the globe. Third-party attacks are becoming not only more sophisticated but also larger in scale. Law firms, legal matters, litigation and produced data remain high-profile targets for cyber-attacks. As discussed in a previous article, producing parties remain vulnerable to the risk that even if they adequately protect data in their own systems, third parties may steal data from the requesting parties’ systems.

Parties and counsel who receive data in litigation have an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect that data. See The Sedona Principles, Third Edition: Best Practices, Recommendations & Principles for Addressing Electronic Document Production, 19 Sedona Conf. J. 1, 179 (2018); see also William LaRosa, Note, New Legal Problems, Old Legal Solutions: Bailment Theory As A Baseline Data Security Standard of Care Owed to Opponent’s Data In E-Discovery, 167 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1 (2019). Moreover, “[a] requesting party inherits the data privacy and protection obligations that come with the ESI it receives, including the responsibilities that arise from the loss of that information.” The Sedona Principles at 179, n. 147.

Thus, the question is not whether a receiving party has a duty to take reasonable steps to protect data, but what is reasonable and proportionate in the context of the matters. While a receiving party could attempt to address security concerns unilaterally without reaching an agreement with opposing parties, this is a risky strategy. First, they may not know the value of the data they are receiving and, therefore, not know whether their efforts to secure the data are sufficient. Second, reaching agreements with the opposing party in advance of production provides greater certainty as to what is reasonable and prevents the parties from imposing security standards after the fact. Third, and finally, producing parties may not be able to actually produce information without having certain data security and breach notice requirements in place.

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