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A guide to metadata analysis

| Written by Altlaw

Metadata is often thought of as data that describes other data. It can help you identify factors such as when a file was created, where a photo was taken or when a document was last modified.

By analysing metadata, legal professionals can follow a digital trail of a file. This can help in litigation to verify or disprove claims made in a case. Below, we’ll explore what metadata analysis is and emphasise the importance of understanding metadata in litigation.


What is metadata analysis?

Metadata allows you to understand the history of a file or document. This information can include when a file was created and when it was last accessed or modified.

The file can be in many digital formats, such as a photograph, video or spreadsheet. 

Put simply, metadata analysis is the uncovering of a file’s digital trail. By analysing a document’s metadata, you can search for evidence to help build a legal argument.

There are three main types of metadata to be aware of, which are:

  • Structural metadata — Relationship between data and how they’re put together
  • Descriptive metadata — Description of the contents of a file, such as an author or keywords
  • Administrative metadata — Details of rights management or ownership of the document

Now that you understand metadata analysis, let’s explore its importance in litigation.


Why is metadata analysis important?

Visible metadata can be easy to uncover and often explains basic details about a file or document. For example, just by right-clicking on a file, you can access information such as file size, modification date and file type.

This type of metadata can be helpful when following the digital trail of a document’s history. It can show you when modifications were made and when the file was created, which can be helpful in litigation when comparing it against an opposing party’s claims.

A good example could be a medical professional claiming they updated a patient’s file immediately after surgery, but the metadata shows they didn’t update the file until weeks later.

But what about metadata that’s hidden? This can be just as vital as visible metadata when building a legal case, so it’s crucial to understand hidden metadata and how to access it.

This hidden information may include a file’s security settings or details on how the file has been stored. Hidden metadata can often reveal valuable information in building a legal case. However, finding this metadata requires using complex tools or computer forensics experts.

You can also use metadata to filter and search through large quantities of documents during eDiscovery. It helps identify relevant files quickly and brings them to the attention of legal professionals searching for a specific document type. This can save you lots of time during document review, as you’ll be able to access the relevant files that will boost your case immediately.

Using metadata to your advantage

By analysing metadata, you can build a case by following the digital footprint of a file. Not only this, but by identifying discrepancies, you can also see where metadata alterations have been made to cover up evidence.

Those who attempt to cover their tracks digitally often modify metadata which can be hard to spot when looking at a single file. However, digital forensics experts can often identify inconsistencies when looking at large datasets. This can reveal key information, such as if a file was modified when an incident occurred.

You can also use metadata to verify aspects of your client’s defence. For example, it can prove that an event occurred at a specified time or location and verify that a file’s information is relevant to the case. As it’s difficult to modify metadata without causing discrepancies within a dataset, you can use this information to support a claim.

Digital photographs often contain geolocation metadata which can be used to prove the location of a photo. Using this information, you can verify a person’s location at a specific time.


What tools are available?

Harnessing the power of analytics tools can save you time and money while improving your litigation processes. eDiscovery software, such as RelativityOne, can help with many of your litigation needs, allowing you to handle data more efficiently.

The software allows you to store and control millions of documents across limitless devices and jurisdictions if you need to deal with large amounts of data.

By processing a higher quantity of data, you’ll leverage more electronically stored information (ESI), meaning you can make smarter decisions more quickly.

Effectively, the software allows you to immediately bring relevant information to the forefront, which can be done so utilising metadata. The onboard analytics will enable you to process large quantities of data across varying formats and helps you interact with the data to identify relationships between corresponding sets of information.


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