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Archive for the ‘Texas’ Category

The Law of Unintended Consequences Strikes over PI Licensing Law in Texas

Posted by rjbiii on January 9, 2009

In the wake of passing amendments to Texas PI licensing laws (see our posts here), cities hoping to issue traffic tickets using automated cameras have run into an unexpected barrier: a court’s interpretation of those licensing laws:

Do the collection and evaluation of electronic records for use in court require a professional license? In litigation a mistake on this question can surprisingly cause a party to lose a lawsuit.

A Texas judge ruled the company operating a red-light enforcement camera (Affiliated Computer Services (ACS)) was acting illegally because it did not have a private investigator license. As the operator of the system, the company was Jim3 involved in collecting and evaluating electronic records for the purpose of presenting findings in court. This case has spawned an uproar statewide, where motorists (such as Jim Ash, citizen of College Station, Texas) are challenging traffic tickets, demanding repayment of fines they’ve paid and complaining about police and politicians who support automated (robo-cop) traffic enforcement.

In response, the company that runs the camera and associated technology has appealed to the State’s Private Security Bureau to help. Sayeth our informed blogger:

The Texas Private Security Bureau issued an opinion saying it “generally” believes the operators of red-light cameras need not be licensed as private investigators. The opinion may help us interpret law on the licensing of computer forensics experts.

The Bureau’s rationale is that the camera operators are performing mere “ministerial” actions at the direction of municipal government employees. (By qualifying its opinion with the word “generally,”the Bureau implies there could be exceptions.) In other words, the Bureau seems to believe the operators are not conducting the investigations that trigger a licensing requirement; rather, the municipalities are performing the investigations.

Posted in Articles, State Licensing Laws, Technology, Texas | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Ephemeral Web

Posted by rjbiii on December 8, 2008

Think the way-back machine is cool? Then get a load of Zoetrope, a web time machine with a turbo button, courtesy of Adobe Systems and the U. of Washington. Zoetrope allows users to access and analyze content based on modifications over time. You can look at stock and commodity prices or product prices during certain periods and link that content with news to find correlations. A video demonstrating the application is here.

This also opens up some interesting issues with respect to website capture…

Posted in Articles, Texas, Trends, Websites | Leave a Comment »

PI Licensing Laws in Texas and Michigan Continue to get Press

Posted by rjbiii on July 31, 2008

This time, the CEO (and former litigator) of Catalyst, John Tredennick, writing in Law Technology Today (reg’n may be required) passes comment:

Two states have recently enacted statutes that make it a crime for unlicensed individuals to engage in computer forensics. Texas passed a law that would give regulators the power to impose up to a year in jail and a $14,000 fine on people doing “computer investigations.” Michigan went a bit further. On May 28 th of this year, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed into law a bill that makes unlicensed computer forensics work in Michigan a felony punishable by up to a four-year prison term, damages of up to $25,000 and a criminal fine of up to $5,000.

Read the article for details, but Tredennick summarizes the Texas law thusly:

As I read these [Regulatory Agency] opinions, there is some comfort for people doing routine electronic discovery collection but not if there is a forensic or testimonial aspect to the collection. There is a strong suggestion that experts who are called to testify in Texas courts regarding examinations of electronic files better be licensed in Texas. If you don’t have a license, you might be pulled off the stand and escorted to the hoosegow for an extended visit.

Seriously…not the hoosegow!

With respect to Michigan:

How far does this reach?

Good question. If I were a forensics expert and offering testimonial services, I would be pretty nervous about this law. The Act seems to focus on:

Computer forensics to be used as evidence before a court, board, officer, or investigating committee.

Most electronic discovery is focused on collection rather than forensics and an argument could be made that your eDiscovery efforts are not about forensics but rather the collection of relevant evidence for review. But do you want to make this argument to some Michigan criminal court? I wouldn’t.

Post Process has previously blogged on this issue (here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Posted in Articles, Data Collection, EDD Industry, Forensics, Laws, Michigan, Privacy, Texas, Vendor Liability | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Legal Challenge to Texas’ PI Law emerges: Standing up for the Computer Technician

Posted by rjbiii on June 28, 2008

The Institute for Justice, with a newly opened Austin chapter, has decided to challenge the new Texas statute that appears to mandate that some computer techs must obtain a private investigator’s license:

Under the new law enacted in 2007, Texas has put computer repair shops on notice that they had better watch their backs any time they work on a computer. If a computer repair technician without a government-issued private investigator’s license takes any actions that the government deems to be an “investigation,” they may be subject to criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, as well as civil penalties of up to $10,000. The definition of “investigation” is very broad and encompasses many common computer repair tasks.

Interestingly, the article doesn’t mention anyone in this industry, which is also greatly threatened by the statute’s impact. Think I’ll talk to the attorneys involved, perhaps providing them with this information. If I get hold of them, I’ll let you know what they say.

Post Process will follow the progress of the lawsuit and blog what we hear. You’ll recall that we’ve discussed the Texas law (here) and the Michigan law (here).

Another approach is for the industry to take an active role in discussing these proposed laws as they begin to surface in the state legislature. I haven’t heard of any activity on that front, yet.

Posted in Articles, Legislation, Texas, Trends | 5 Comments »

TX Case Blurb: Honza; Court addresses objection to discovery request based on revealing confidential information, court order

Posted by rjbiii on March 10, 2008

[Producing Party members] seek a writ of mandamus compelling Respondent, the Honorable Greg Wilhelm, Judge of the County Court at Law No. 1 of Ellis County, to set aside a discovery order requiring the Honzas to permit a forensic expert to create a mirror image of each of the computer hard drives in the Honzas’ office in an effort to locate two particular documents or iterations of those documents

The Honzas contend that Respondent abused his discretion because: (2) the order authorizes the disclosure of information protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (3) the order authorizes the disclosure of confidential information pertaining to the Honzas’ other clients who have no connection to the underlying lawsuit.

The present discovery dispute originated with [Requesting Party’s] motion to gain access to the Honzas’ computers, which was filed about one month before trial. By this motion, [Requesting Party] sought “[i]nformation (the ‘Metadata’) contained on the actual computers of the Defendants, such as any time stamps on the Relevant Documents, versions of the Relevant Documents, if any, as well as the deletion of various versions, if any.” [Requesting Party] explained that, although the Honzas responded to a prior request for production of relevant documents in their electronic version, “the Metadata was neither produced nor made available.”

[Ed. Testimony indicated the existence of relevant documents with respect to a another transaction apparently not addressed by earlier discovery requests]

[] [Requesting Party] sought discovery of relevant documents pertaining to the [newly revealed] transaction, and the [Producing Party] complied by providing pertinent written discovery.

[Requesting Party] seeks the metadata from the [Producing Party’s] hard drives because it wants to identify the points in time when the partial assignment draft was modified in relation to the diary entry. This goes to the issue of whether [the Producing Party] altered the partial assignment after the parties concluded their agreement but before the document was presented for execution.

[Ed. The opinion then went on to list various Federal and State sources for persuasive authority in discovery law, especially with respect to ESI]

Privileged or Confidential Information

The [Producing Party] also contend[s] that the discovery order improperly authorizes the disclosure of (1) information protected by the attorney-client privilege and (2) confidential information pertaining to the Honzas’ other clients who have no connection to the underlying lawsuit.

Notwithstanding the “unlimited” access necessarily granted the forensic expert, Respondent’s order preserves any privileged or confidential information in several ways. First, the expert is limited in his search to two specific documents or iterations of those documents. [Members of the Producing Party] are then accorded the right to review the documents and information which the expert believes responsive and produce to [Requesting Party] only those documents and information which [members of the Producing Party] themselves believe are responsive. These provisions effectively preclude [Requesting Party] from having any access to documents or information pertaining to other clients of the Honzas not involved in this litigation.

Second, the order allows the [Producing Party executives] to withhold from discovery any documents or information which they claim to be privileged or confidential and provide instead a privilege log, subject to in camera review by Respondent.

Finally, the order provides that: (1) the observation of information by [Requesting Party] representatives during the imaging process shall not constitute a waiver of privilege or confidentiality; (2) all participants in the imaging process are subject to a protective order prohibiting the unauthorized disclosure of information; and (3) [Requesting Party’s] expert must provide proof of being bonded and of having commercial liability insurance by which the [Producing Party] may be “fully indemnified against any monetary loss.”

For these reasons, we hold that Respondent appropriately tailored the discovery order to prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of privileged or confidential information and no abuse of discretion is shown.

[Ed. Note that a dissenting opinion is also entered by one of the Judges hearing the case. See the order itself for the full text of that dissent, or of the opinion itself.]

In re Honza, 2007 WL 4591917 (Tex. App. Dec. 28, 2007)

Posted in Case Blurbs, Computer Forensics, Data Collection, Data Custodians, Data Sources, Discovery Requests, Duty to Produce, Objections to Discovery Requests, Privacy, Privilege, Privilege Log, Scope of Discovery, Texas, TX Judge Felipe Reyna | Leave a Comment »

TX Case Blurb: Honza; Court addresses objection to ‘overly broad’ discovery requests, court order

Posted by rjbiii on March 10, 2008

[Producing Party members] seek a writ of mandamus compelling Respondent, the Honorable Greg Wilhelm, Judge of the County Court at Law No. 1 of Ellis County, to set aside a discovery order requiring the Honzas to permit a forensic expert to create a mirror image of each of the computer hard drives in the Honzas’ office in an effort to locate two particular documents or iterations of those documents

The Honzas contend that Respondent abused his discretion because: (1) the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition”;…

The present discovery dispute originated with [Requesting Party’s] motion to gain access to the Honzas’ computers, which was filed about one month before trial. By this motion, [Requesting Party] sought “[i]nformation (the ‘Metadata’) contained on the actual computers of the Defendants, such as any time stamps on the Relevant Documents, versions of the Relevant Documents, if any, as well as the deletion of various versions, if any.” [Requesting Party] explained that, although the Honzas responded to a prior request for production of relevant documents in their electronic version, “the Metadata was neither produced nor made available.”

[Ed. Testimony indicated the existence of relevant documents with respect to a another transaction apparently not addressed by earlier discovery requests]

[] [Requesting Party] sought discovery of relevant documents pertaining to the [newly revealed] transaction, and the [Producing Party] complied by providing pertinent written discovery.

[Requesting Party] seeks the metadata from the [Producing Party’s] hard drives because it wants to identify the points in time when the partial assignment draft was modified in relation to the diary entry. This goes to the issue of whether [the Producing Party] altered the partial assignment after the parties concluded their agreement but before the document was presented for execution.

[Ed. The opinion then went on to list various Federal and State sources for persuasive authority in discovery law, especially with respect to ESI]

Overbroad Discovery

The [Producing Party] first contend that the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition.” In this regard, they argue that Respondent improperly “gave blanket approval for [the Requesting Party] to gain total access to [their] computers and all information stored on them, whether or not it has anything to do with this lawsuit.”

Although it is true that Respondent’s order gives A & W’s forensic expert [FN8]complete access to all data stored on the Honzas’ computers, the order provides that the expert is to index all forensic images acquired from the imaging process “for the limited purpose of searching (the ‘Examination Process’) for two documents, previously Bates-labeled as HONZA 00019 and HONZA 00017, which are drafts of “Assignment of Contract” and any iterations (the ‘Relevant Documents’).” The expert must then compile any documents or information which the expert believes responsive and deliver them to the Honzas to determine for themselves which are responsive to A & W’s discovery request and which they choose to withhold, providing a privilege log instead.

In addition to limiting the expert’s search to two specific documents, the order provides that no waiver of privilege or confidentiality occurs if any otherwise privileged or confidential information is observed by A & W’s counsel or representatives during the imaging process, and they are prohibited from using such information other than in compliance with the terms of the order. The forensic expert is likewise prohibited from disclosing any information observed during the imaging process. And finally, the order requires the expert and all party representatives or counsel participating in the imaging process to sign an acknowledgment agreeing that they are subject to contempt of court for any violation of the order.

Any order requiring the imaging of a computer hard drive necessarily grants the expert who is conducting the imaging process access to all data on that hard drive. Here, Respondent specifically limited the expert’s search to two documents; gave the [Producing Party] a “right of first refusal” with regard to determining which documents or information are relevant to those two documents and responsive to [Requesting Party’s] discovery request; imposed stringent limitations on inadvertent disclosures to prevent any unintended waiver of confidentiality or privilege; and placed all participants in the imaging process under a carefully drawn protective order.

Therefore, we do not agree with the Honzas’ contention that the discovery order is overbroad.

[Ed. Note that a dissenting opinion is also entered by one of the Judges hearing the case. See the order itself for the full text of that dissent, or of the opinion itself.]

In re Honza, 2007 WL 4591917 (Tex. App. Dec. 28, 2007)

Posted in Case Blurbs, Computer Forensics, Data Custodians, Data Sources, Discovery Requests, Duty to Produce, Form of Production, Objections to Discovery Requests, Overly Broad Request, Privacy, Scope of Discovery, State Courts, Texas, TX Judge Felipe Reyna | Leave a Comment »

TX Case Blurb: Honza; Court outlines process for Forensic Expert’s access to Party’s hard drive and subsequent production

Posted by rjbiii on March 10, 2008

[Producing Party members] seek a writ of mandamus compelling Respondent, the Honorable Greg Wilhelm, Judge of the County Court at Law No. 1 of Ellis County, to set aside a discovery order requiring the Honzas to permit a forensic expert to create a mirror image of each of the computer hard drives in the Honzas’ office in an effort to locate two particular documents or iterations of those documents

The Honzas contend that Respondent abused his discretion because: (1) the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition”; (2) the order authorizes the disclosure of information protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (3) the order authorizes the disclosure of confidential information pertaining to the Honzas’ other clients who have no connection to the underlying lawsuit.

The present discovery dispute originated with [Requesting Party’s] motion to gain access to the Honzas’ computers, which was filed about one month before trial. By this motion, [Requesting Party] sought “[i]nformation (the ‘Metadata’) contained on the actual computers of the Defendants, such as any time stamps on the Relevant Documents, versions of the Relevant Documents, if any, as well as the deletion of various versions, if any.” [Requesting Party] explained that, although the Honzas responded to a prior request for production of relevant documents in their electronic version, “the Metadata was neither produced nor made available.”

[Ed. Testimony indicated the existence of relevant documents with respect to a another transaction apparently not addressed by earlier discovery requests]

[] [Requesting Party] sought discovery of relevant documents pertaining to the [newly revealed] transaction, and the [Producing Party] complied by providing pertinent written discovery.

[Requesting Party] seeks the metadata from the [Producing Party’s] hard drives because it wants to identify the points in time when the partial assignment draft was modified in relation to the diary entry. This goes to the issue of whether [the Producing Party] altered the partial assignment after the parties concluded their agreement but before the document was presented for execution.

[Ed. The opinion then went on to list various Federal and State sources for persuasive authority in discovery law, especially with respect to ESI]

Under these decisions, the following protocol is generally followed. First, the party seeking discovery selects a forensic expert to make a mirror image of the computer hard drives at issue. This expert is required to perform the analysis subject to the terms of a protective order, generally prohibiting the expert from disclosing confidential or otherwise privileged information other than under the terms of the discovery order.

After creating the mirror images and analyzing them for relevant documents or partial documents, courts typically require the expert to compile the documents or partial documents obtained and provide copies to the party opposing discovery. That party is then to review the documents, produce those responsive to the discovery request, and create a privilege log for those withheld. Finally, the trial court will conduct an in-camera review should any disputes arise regarding the entries in the privilege log.

Because our research has disclosed no Texas decisions regarding this type of electronic discovery, we will apply these fairly uniform procedures to the issues presented in this proceeding.

[Ed. Note that a dissenting opinion is also entered by one of the Judges hearing the case. See the order itself for the full text of that dissent, or of the opinion itself.]

In re Honza, 2007 WL 4591917 (Tex. App. Dec. 28, 2007)

Posted in Case Blurbs, Computer Forensics, Data Collection, Data Custodians, Duty to Produce, Objections to Discovery Requests, Privacy, Privilege, Privilege Log, Scope of Discovery, State Courts, Texas, TX Judge Felipe Reyna | Leave a Comment »

Will Lit Support Vendors need a PI License in Texas?

Posted by rjbiii on July 17, 2007

NB: Updates can be found on Post Process here, here, and here.

There has been much discussion in the litsupport groups concerning a new law set to take effect on September 1, which, among other things, expands the definition of an “investigations company.”

From 80(R) HB 2388, Here is the full text of this section (the bold font is the newly amended text):

Sec. 1702.104. INVESTIGATIONS COMPANY. (a) A person acts
as an investigations company for the purposes of this chapter if the
person:
(1) engages in the business of obtaining or
furnishing, or accepts employment to obtain or furnish, information
related to:
(A) crime or wrongs done or threatened against a
state or the United States;
(B) the identity, habits, business, occupation,
knowledge, efficiency, loyalty, movement, location, affiliations,
associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a
person;
(C) the location, disposition, or recovery of
lost or stolen property; or
(D) the cause or responsibility for a fire,
libel, loss, accident, damage, or injury to a person or to property;
(2) engages in the business of securing, or accepts
employment to secure, evidence for use before a court, board,
officer, or investigating committee;
(3) engages in the business of securing, or accepts
employment to secure, the electronic tracking of the location of an
individual or motor vehicle other than for criminal justice
purposes by or on behalf of a governmental entity; or
(4) engages in the business of protecting, or accepts
employment to protect, an individual from bodily harm through the
use of a personal protection officer.
(b) For purposes of Subsection (a)(1), obtaining or
furnishing information includes information obtained or furnished
through the review and analysis of, and the investigation into the
content of, computer-based data not available to the public.

To parse the language then, the existence of new section (b) means that if you are in the business of: obtaining or furnishing information related to four areas listed above:
A Crimes or wrongs against the US;
B The identity, habits, business, occupation,
knowledge, efficiency, loyalty, movement, location, affiliations,
associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a
person
C The location or disposition of stolen property; or
D An investigation into a fire
Then you are an investigations company.

This is true if the information is obtained through the “review and analysis of, and the investigation into the content of, computer-based data not available to the public.”

So the question for vendors becomes: what operational tasks meet the definition of the new section? There seems little doubt that a forensics examination of a network or pc system is covered by the new definition, because forensic examiners deliver a report based on an analysis of and investigation into the content of computer-based data” on private systems.
But what about other tasks, such as the collection of data, the processing of data for review and production, and the storing and display of data for attorney review?

We should not an exception is noted in section Section 1702.324:

This chapter does not apply to:
…(10) a person who obtains a document for use in
litigation under an authorization or subpoena issued for a written
or oral deposition…

Yet that exception seems rather narrow, as it only applies to a particular deposition, and not to a possible trial in general. Furthermore, the exception is narrowed still by text in section 1702.324 (c), which states:

The exemptions do not apply to activities or services that are independent of the service or profession that is the basis for the exemption.

It seems obvious that in order to provide a full range of litigation support services, including forensic examination, then you will have to become licensed. But will all vendors, even those who do not perform such examinations, need a license as well? Stay tuned…

Posted in Laws, Legislation, states, Texas | 5 Comments »