Every day, attorneys transmit spreadsheets, documents, and PDFs to courts, adversaries, third parties, and clients. They intend to transmit only after “scrubbing,” or else they don’t believe the document contains important hidden data. They often hear that “metadata is data about the data,” but most fail to appreciate the impact that sharing metadata can have. That’s because lawyers are prey to certain myths.
They might believe that PDFs do not contain metadata. Wrong. PDFs contain “document properties” that provide the recipient with the name of the document’s author and the date it was created/last modified. They think metadata only matters in litigation, but it can have a huge impact on M&A or employment matters. They assume that, as lawyers, they can’t be expected to understand technical jargon; but they are expected to protect their clients’ confidential information, and that means understanding what information is contained in the documents they are handling, obvious or not.
The options are to remain technologically naïve and delegate the sharing of client data to someone who understands the risks and available protections, or to proceed with caution and only select “Share” or push “Send” once you’ve: (1) viewed the document properties; (2) determined if metadata scrubbing is necessary and, if so, scrubbed the file; (3) confirmed that the scrubbed document will contain only the information that you intended to share. These steps don’t cover everything, but they are a good start towards safeguarding confidential client data.