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eDiscovery Down Under: New Zealand and Australia Are Not as Different as They Sound, Mate!

Created: 29 Mar 2012 • 1 comment
AlliWalt's picture
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Shortly after arriving in Wellington, New Zealand, I picked up the Dominion Post newspaper and read its lead article: a story involving U.S. jurisdiction being exercised over billionaire NZ resident Mr. Kim Dotcom. The article reinforced the challenges we face with blurred legal and data governance issues presented by the globalization of the economy and the expansive reach of the internet. Originally from Germany, and having changed his surname to reflect the origin of his fortune, Mr. Dotcom has become all too familiar in NZ of late. He has just purchased two opulent homes in NZ, and has become an internationally controversial figure for internet piracy. Mr. Dotcom’s legal troubles arise out of his internet business that enables illegal downloads of pirated material between users, which allegedly is powering the largest copyright infringement in global history. It is approximated that his website constitutes 4% of the internet traffic in the world, which means there could be tons of discovery in this case (or, cases).

The most recent legal problems Mr. Dotcom faces are with U.S. authorities who want to extradite him to face copyright charges worth $500 million by his Megaupload file-sharing website. From a criminal and record-keeping standpoint, Mr. Dotcom’s issues highlight the need for and use of appropriate technologies. In order to establish a case against him, it’s likely that search technologies were deployed by U.S. intelligence agencies to piece together Mr. Dotcom’s activities, banking information, emails and the data transfers on his site. In a case like this, where intelligence agencies would need to collect, search and cull email from so many different geographies and data sources down to just the relevant information, using technologies that link email conversation threads and give insight into a data collection set from a transparent search point of view would provide immense value. Additionally, the Immigration bureau in New Zealand has been required to release hundreds of documents about Mr. Dotcom's residency application that were requested under the Official Information Act (OIA). The records that Immigration had to produce were likely pulled from their archive or records management system in NZ, and then redacted for private information before production to the public.

The same tools are needed in Australia and New Zealand to build a criminal case or to comply with the OIA that we use here in the U.S for investigatory and compliance purposes, as well as for litigation. The trend in information governance technology in APAC is trending first toward government agencies who are purchasing archiving and eDiscovery technologies more rapidly than private companies. Why is this? One reason could be that because the governments in APAC have a larger responsibility for healthcare, education and the protection of privacy; they are more invested in the compliance requirements and staying off the front page of the news for shortcomings. APAC private enterprises that are small or mid-sized and are not yet doing international business do not have the same archiving and eDiscovery needs large government agencies do, nor do they face litigation in the same way their American counterparts do. Large global companies should assume no matter where they are based, that they may be availed to litigation where they are doing business.

An interesting NZ use case on the enterprise level is that of Transpower (the quasi-governmental energy agency), where compliance with both the “private and public” requirements are mandatory. Transpower is an organisation that is government-owned, yet operates for a profit. Sally Myles, an experienced records manager that recently came to Transpower to head up information governance initiatives, says,

“We have to comply with the Public Records Act of 2005, public requests for information are frequent as we and are under constant scrutiny about where we will develop our plants. We also must comply with the Privacy Act of 1993. My challenge is to get the attention of our leadership to demonstrate why we need to make these changes and show them a plan for implementation as well as cost savings.”

Myles’ comments indicate NZ is facing many of the same information challenges we are here in the US with storage, records management and searching for meaningful information within the organisation.

Australia, New Zealand and U.S. Commonalities

In Australia and NZ, litigation is not seen as a compelling business driver the same way it is in the U.S. This is because many of the information governance needs of organisations are driven by regulatory, statutory and compliance requirements and the environment is not as litigious as it is in the U.S. The Official Information Act in NZ, and the Freedom of Information in Australia, are analogous to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) here in the U.S. The requirements to produce public records alone justify the use of technology to provide the ability to manage large volumes of data and produce appropriately redacted information to the public. This is true regardless of litigation. Additionally, there are now cases like DuPont or Mr. Dotcom’s, that legitimatize the risk of litigation with the U.S. The fact that implementing an information governance product suite will also enable a company to be prepared for litigation is a beneficial by-product for many entities as they need technology for record keeping and privacy reasons anyway. In essence, the same capabilities are achieved at the end of the day, regardless of the impetus for implementing a solution.

The Royal Commission - The Ultimate eDiscovery Vehicle

One way to think about the Australian Royal Commission (RCs) is to see it as a version of the U.S.’ government investigation. A key difference, however, is that in the case of the U.S. government, an investigation is typically into private companies. Conversely, a Royal Commission is typically an investigation into a government body after a major tragedy and it is initiated by the Head of State. A RC is an ad-hoc, formal, public inquiry into a defined issue with considerable discovery powers. These powers can be greater than those of a judge and are restricted to the scope and terms of reference of the Commission. RCs are called to look into matters of great importance and usually have very large budgets. The RC is charged with researching the issue, consulting experts both within and outside of government and developing findings to recommend changes to the law or other courses of actions. RCs have immense investigatory powers, including summoning witnesses under oath, offering of indemnities, seizing of documents and other evidence (sometimes including those normally protected, such as classified information), holding hearings in camera if necessary and—in a few cases—compelling government officials to aid in the execution of the Commission.

These expansive powers give the RC the opportunity to employ state of the art technology and to skip the slow bureaucratic decision making processes found within the government when it comes to implementing technological change. For this reason, initially, eDiscovery will continue to increase in the government sector at a more rapid pace than in the private in the Asia Pacific region. This is because litigation is less prevalent in the Asia Pacific, and because the RC is a unique investigatory vehicle with the most far-reaching authority for discovering information. Moreover, the timeframes for RCs are tight and their scopes are broad, making them hair on fire situations that move quickly.

While the APAC information management environment does not have the exact same drivers the U.S. market does, it definitely has the same archiving, eDiscovery and technology needs for different reasons. Another key point is that the APAC archiving and eDiscovery market will likely be driven by the government as records, search and production requirements are the main compliance needs in Australia and NZ. APAC organisations would be well served by beginning to modularly implement key elements of an information governance plan, as globalization is driving us all to a more common and automated approach to data management. 

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eDiscovery 2.0's picture

Authored by: Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong claiming eDiscovery attention « e-Disclosure Information Project

[...] Allison Walton of Symantec was there earlier in the year on a trip which took in Australia as well. Her account of her trip is called eDiscovery Down Under. [...]

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