The attorneys’ professional responsibility to keep certain information confidential is nothing new but what if confidential, privileged, or otherwise sensitive information is inadvertently revealed via electronic file transfer because that information happened to be part of the document’s metadata? American Bar Association (ABA) has recently tackled such situation and created a comparative chart displaying the attorneys’ responsibility regarding metadata and ethics in various jurisdictions around the U.S.
Metadata is loosely defined as “data about data.” More specifically, the term refers to the embedded stratum of data in electronics file that may include such information as who authored a document, when it was created, what software was used, any comments embedded within the content, and even a record of changes made to the document.While metadata is often harmless, it can potentially include sensitive, confidential, or privileged information. As such, it presents a serious concern for attorneys charged with maintaining confidentiality – both their own and their clients. Professional responsibility committees at several bar associations around the country have weighed in on attorneys’ ethical responsibilities regarding metadata, but there is no clear consensus on the major metadata issues.