Journalists need to store data for six years in case it is needed in court

A recent court case in America acts as a reminder to UK journalists about the importance of storing digital data.

Courts here have established that IM (instant messenger) records are subject to disclosure in legal proceedings, and must be preserved in case of a trial. They have also ruled that searches for relevant documents should be stringent and even deleted documents can be used if they can be recovered.

So journalists should store data for up to six years in case it is needed in defamation or a privacy course, or a criminal trial.

There are stringent penalties for attempting to amend documents, or deleting them, if they are to be produced as evidence.

In America last month a federal magistrate judge in New Jersey took action against a man who deactivated his Facebook account during litigation

Facebook subsequently deleted the account – and the data – 14 days later.  

Editors are advised to set clear rules about data retention. They have a legal duty to preserve potentially relevant social media information and make sure that it does not get destroyed, even unintentionally.

They may wish to use a dedicated IM security service that logs and archives all data.

They should also make sure journalists who use their own social media accounts for work do not deactivate them once legal proceedings have commenced, as this could lead to it being deleted.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law


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