My collegue Charles Skamser wrote a great piece on his eDiscovery Paradigm Shift Blog which illustrates my point more eloquently than I ever could. Below is an excerpt but feel free to click the link to read the whole article
Authentication of ESI. Any person who gathers ESI must be able to authenticate and lay a foundation for that ESI. “Authentication” simply means that the person called to admit the ESI must prove that the ESI is what he or she claims it is. That person must be able to lay a foundation for the ESI.
To authenticate the evidence, the person called to testify may need to establish the following, depending upon what is sought to be introduced and the issues raised:
How the ESI was gathered.
Where the ESI was stored.
Who had access to it.
Establish the chain-of-custody
Whether other ESI was also located.
Whether a thorough search was conducted.
Whether the ESI sought to be introduced was altered from its original state.
Other essential details.
Who should be entrusted with the responsibility to gather the ESI? Who should take the witness stand to testify at trial? Certainly, the law firm’s paralegal, secretary and investigator should not conduct the ESI search unless that individual is qualified to establish the above-listed details and will lay the appropriate foundation for introduction of the ESI.
When gathering evidence it is usually not clear whether the evidence will be challenged when the party seeks to introduce it. Thus, the evidence should be gathered in a thoughtful manner that will withstand future challenges.
If ESI is gathered improperly and a party is unable to lay an appropriate foundation to authenticate the ESI, that evidence will not be admitted into evidence. This could be devastating to the case, depending on how critical the ESI was.
Just as experts are hired to provide opinions and establish essential facts, experts should be used to gather ESI. Ideally, the expert will have both technical are needed to search for, gather and introduce ESI.
The person who gathers ESI should also be a good witness. Parties must generally take witnesses as they come. There is very little control over who witnessed particular facts. However, when gathering evidence, parties are given the opportunity to select the witness. So, there should be some assurance that the person who gathers ESI will be a competent witness who can be depended upon. This witness may end up being the critical witness in the case.