In a recent blog post, we discussed metadata and defined it as the embedded stratum of data in an electronics file. The information that can be found in metadata may range who authored the document to what changes were made to it. This raises the question of whether mining an entire database for metadata exceeds the scope of looking for comparatively small pieces of relevant information? The court shed light on these issues in Firma Helget v. City of Hays, Kansas, et al., (D. Kan. June 25, 2014).
Plaintiff brought an action against her former employer, Defendant, for wrongful termination. Plaintiff contended that she was improperly fired after submitting an affidavit in a lawsuit by a former co-worker against the mutual employer (Defendant), which alleged interference with that co-worker’s constitutional rights. Plaintiff maintained that an entry within a database document she discovered showed that Defendant remotely accessed Plaintiff’s work computer. This occurred prior to a meeting in which Defendant formally approved termination of Plaintiff’s employment and prior to the day Plaintiff’s employment was terminated.
The question the court was left to answer was whether Plaintiff should have access to the entire database in order to analyze metadata pertaining to the creation and modification of the data entry. The court agreed with Plaintiff that looking at whether and who remotely accessed Plaintiff’s work computer would be very relevant.
However, the court noted that a request to access all of a database could also be “overly broad, unduly burdensome or irrelevant.” As such, the court ordered Defendant to produce only the original IT Services database log, with all original database metadata, occurring fourteen days before and after Plaintiff’s computer was accessed.