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Taming the audio and video 800-pound gorilla

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Most, if not all organisations are adopting new modes of digital communications for both internal and external purposes. While innovative new solutions continue to enter the market, today’s tried-and-true platforms include Skype for video chat, voice calls, and instant messaging, social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Yammer and Slack, and collaborative groupware applications such as WebEx and GoToMeeting.  Many governmental and business organisations have also instituted audio and video surveillance for various reasons.  And of course, email and telephone/voice-messages aren’t going away anytime soon.  The problem with all of these technologies – new and established – is that storing, protecting, finding and producing audio and/or video files for business, legal or regulatory purposes is no easy task.  And while today’s exciting TV and movies might imply that finding the data you need is as easy and spending two-minutes to click a few buttons and hack into the network in question, it doesn’t usually work out that way. 

Police body cams – Capturing terabytes of data each month 

Let’s take an example from the public sector. Many Police Departments are now outfitting their officers with body-cams that record both audio and video as evidence. While the benefits in doing so are numerous, the challenges can be as well.  What do you do with all of this new audio and video data? Where do you store it, who manages it, how do you protect it, and later…  how do you find the specific audio or video evidence you require? In a perfect world, officers, video techs and/or the IT professionals are supposed to tag video files with keywords and other metadata to make searching it easier, at the time of capture, collection and storage.  But, it makes sense that sometimes, police officers may have bigger fish to fry while their body-cam is automatically collecting audio and video – tagging it with key words at the time of capture, or even soon after, may not be top-of-mind. 

So, what happens when the metadata is not meaningful or the files have not been tagged, and how does a police department keep up with it?  One medium sized police department in California reports that they capture and store an average of 7 TB of video data per month.  And while they know that there are currently available applications designed specifically to support police audio and video evidence retention and management, these applications fall short in their ability to quickly and accurately search and produce the exact file required, and are typically prohibitively expensive – certainly for an organisation supported by tax dollars. 

In reality, most jurisdictions now rely on individuals to sit and watch, or listen to, hours-upon

-hours of audio and/or video to find and produce the needed evidence for court cases.  Unfortunately, regardless of what type of IT you are involved with, manual methods are always time consuming, and at risk of human-error. 

Corporate audio and video – The 800-pound gorilla in the eDiscovery world 

In the corporate world, for audio and video files, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is eDiscovery. Parties to a corporate lawsuit must deal with discovery requests – an order from the opposing counsel to turn over relevant content. And these days, audio and video files are playing a large part in the collection process.

Defendants are forced to search for potentially responsive content, no matter where it’s stored and no matter its format. Because of this, defendants (those being discovered) are faced with manually reviewing potentially thousands of hours of files. Meanwhile, their attorneys must repeat the process because they cannot risk that their clients missed something that could damage their case, and/or put them at risk of being accused of hiding evidence. And, Plaintiffs’ attorneys also review these files to determine relevance to their case. This additional manual handling of audio and video files drive the cost of discovery up, dramatically – usually to the detriment of the defendant (to the tune of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars).

Further into the legal process, audio and video content is added in the form of recorded depositions. Deposition testimony is taken orally, with an attorney asking questions and the individual answering while a court reporter or tape recorder (or sometimes both) records the testimony. The attorney’s will refer back to these recordings often.

And finally, recorded witness statements are common and generate large amounts of audio and video content. Attorneys and their paralegals must spend time listening/watching hours of this content to index and absorb for relevance. 

So, is eDiscovery in corporate legal cases the 800-pound, 800 hours or 800-thousand-dollar gorilla in the room?

Regulatory retention is not just for email

Many regulatory retention requirements are now beginning to call-out or at least imply the retention of audio and video files. For example, MiFID II will generate new requirements concerning the recording, storing and monitoring of telephone conversations and electronic communications.

MiFID II Article 16(7) of the Directive states that “Records shall include the recording of telephone conversations or electronic communications relating to, at least, transactions concluded when dealing on own account and the provision of client order services that relate to the reception, transmission and execution of client orders.”

As mentioned, part of the problem with audio and video files is finding specific content quickly. In fact, the MiFID II regulations state “Records must be stored in a medium that allows them to be accessible for future reference and readily available if NCAs request them.” This strongly implies that audio and video content must be indexed and easily searchable, complicating compliance.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – a challenge that is being addressed by countless business organisations and technology providers around the world, and is sure to further complicate things. 

Fear not, there is light on the horizon.  Fast and affordable light.  Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform just announced the availability of Cognitive and Media Services as part of the services stack available to application developers to include in their native Azure applications. Cognitive and Media Services enables the real-time indexing and transcription of audio and video files to enable search and location of specific content so that searches across GBs or TBs of previously unindexed and un-tagged content can now be accomplished quickly.

In addition, solutions are now available that were designed specifically from the ground-up to support and extend Azure Cognitive Services (i.e., Archive2Azure), providing capabilities such as the ability to store, manage, and search audio and video files at a deeper and more granular level. Some of these solutions have already been reviewed, tested and certified by Microsoft. 

As you review potential solutions, it is important that you don’t compromise when it comes to features such as the ability to maintain your archived data in your company’s Azure instance with complete access and control – not some proprietary platform controlled by others. Additional features and benefits that should be required in your solution include the ability to consolidate unstructured data, while lowering the cost for archival cloud storage. This includes legacy email archives, journal folders, inactive or departed employee work files, PSTs, file share content, backups, system generated data, and eDiscovery/compliance data.  Of course, do not concede when it comes to scalability.  Seek a solution that delivers long-term, secure compliance retention and management - at a great price.

And most importantly, the solution you choose should always store your content in its original (native) format, and NEVER charge to export data (a currently legal form of ransomware).

With these tools in hand, and as communications tools expand, those supporting end user requirements can sleep soundly knowing their end users have the freedom to collect and store a virtually unlimited volume of audio and video files, with less (if any) of the illness on them to properly name or index the data.  The solutions that are already available can search across their files, regardless of language, finding and delivering the exact file(s) to support their business, legal and/or compliance requirement.

As the joke goes…  Where does an 800-pound gorilla sit?  Anywhere it wants.  How do you move an 800-pound gorilla?  You don’t.  That 800-pound gorilla… is now a three-pound kitten.

Bill Tolson, Vice President of Marketing, Archive360 (opens in new tab)
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Bill has 25+ years of technology experience, including 15+ years in archiving, information governance, and eDiscovery. He is a frequent speaker at legal and information governance events and has authored numerous books, articles and blogs.