Database Principles According to the Sedona Conference

Database Principles According to the Sedona Conference

As data processing methodologies are constantly in flux, the recent Sedona Conference session “Database Principles: Addressing the Preservation and Production of Databases and Database Information in Civil Litigation” helped to outline some current viewpoints about database preservation, processing and production.

The two hour session, led by legal and e-discovery experts, began with an explanation of the importance of determining a standard for preserving database information. More and more, databases are becoming a resource rich with information due to their “large accumulations of information” and ability to “index, query, and report on the content…” stored within them. The rising importance of database information is met with a challenge—there is no standard for collecting and processing this information. “Databases,” according to the speakers, “are treated inconsistently in discovery.”  

Part of the reason database preservation and production has remained unstandardized stems from the difficulty in dealing with such a large set of data in a structured format. The speakers noted, “…not all content in a database may be relevant.” Furthermore, there is an issue of accessibility. According to the Conference speakers, structured information produced from databases can often not be meaningfully reviewed with conventional review platforms and procedures.

Though it is difficult to work with database information and set a singular standard for its preservation and production, databases are rising in importance and standards for various situations must be defined. The Conference speakers determined that relevance, production format and authenticity validation are the primary factors that should be addressed when working with database information.

Since databases house large volumes of documents, relevance of information becomes increasingly important when reviewing or producing documents. The Conference speakers noted that only rarely is an entire database relevant to the case. When requesting database information, the Conference speakers suggested that all parties involved have “…knowledge of the data and the system” in order to make a “meaningful” request. Beyond the concern of how much time it takes to review an over inclusive data set, the speakers noted, “Uneducated discovery requests can lead to expensive discovery disputes and the production of large amounts of useless data.”

After determining the scope of database information to request, the requesting party needs to negotiate the production format. The speakers noted, “The way in which a requesting party intends to use database information is an important factor in determining an appropriate format of production.” According to the Conference, different production formats include: reports based on queries, datasets derived from database, whole databases or supervised access to a database to perform searches.

Finally, the speakers focused on the validation of database information once it has been produced. They noted, “A responding party must use reasonable measures to validate ESI collected from database systems to ensure completeness and accuracy of the data acquisition.” Adherence to this principle may be somewhat easier to solicit as it is backed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g)(1) which sets a standard for validating database information. It enforces that the information produced is “…to the best of the person’s knowledge, information, and belief formed after a reasonable inquiry…complete and correct as of the time it is made…neither unreasonable nor unduly burdensome….” To further validate data, the speakers suggested QC checking the information by using spot checks and record count sums.

Databases are crucial to review since they carry a wealth of information. However, this large amount of information can be unwieldy and intimidating. Discovering and producing database information is rising in popularity. As with other types of data, standards and expectations for handling database information will likely soon be set. The Sedona Conference has provided a great start for us all to work from.

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