56 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2017 Last revised: 16 Apr 2018
Date Written: November 28, 2017
“Ephemeral” applications like Snapchat facilitate social interaction in a format that mimics the impermanence of face-to-face conversations. In the age of “big data” and the growing privacy concerns it raises, platforms offering ephemeral social media tools are meeting a market demand for smaller digital footprints. Additionally, these platforms are responding to regulatory pressure to embrace “privacy by design,” the idea that new technology should be built with privacy as a goal from the ground up. Indeed, ephemeral platforms, though imperfect in their impermanence, mark a positive shift in the direction of data minimization.
But the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for broad discovery of electronically stored information. And they mandate, along with other rules, preservation of potentially relevant data in anticipation of litigation. Preservation duties for this new brand of ephemeral data, however, have not been clearly defined.
This article urges for a fair and balanced approach to defining preservation duties for disappearing data. While ephemeral content may be discoverable, onerous preservation duties are unwarranted and will negatively impact both corporate and individual litigants alike. For corporate interests, overly broad preservation duties lead to risk-averse companies stockpiling all things digital, often at great cost. For individuals, the law should recognize that mobile technology has become ubiquitous and social media is a key tool for personal expression, free speech, and social interaction. But individuals also have become the unwitting stewards of vast amounts of data, some of which is dynamic and ever-changing. Deletion or revision of personal information is a normal occurrence on social media platforms — indeed, some are a product of privacy by design. Overly broad preservation duties for individual litigants thus impose unwarranted burdens and are out of step with technological change.
Keywords: social media, spoliation, preservation, Snapchat, ephemeral, electronically stored information, discovery, electronic discovery, e-discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
JEL Classification: K41, K20, M13, M15, O33, L50, D8, K10, K19, M10, M00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation