I’m a tool guy.  I pride myself on having the right tool for the task at hand. Digital forensics demands a broad range of specialized software, adapters, cabling, screwdrivers and spudgers.  Yes, “spudger” is a real word.  The forensic examiners I know enjoy swapping tool recommendations because often having the right tool to collect or parse electronic evidence means the difference between a quick victory or an agonizing series of defeats.

Delving deeper into the Alex Jones Discovery Debacle in a Law.com article bylined by Emily Cousins, I saw mention of Jones’ counsel passing around a “white hard drive” bearing no label or markings, nothing whatsoever advising the drive held privileged attorney-client records and court-protected documents.

After twenty-odd years as a certified digital forensic examiner and ESI Special Master, I’m custodian for countless hard drives and storage media holding sensitive data—media in all colors, shapes and sizes.  One common thread across all is the adhesive paper label affixed to each.  Arguably, the most valuable tool in my forensics lab is an 18-year-old Brother QL-500 label printer purchased secondhand from a clearance bin at Office Depot.  The 1-1/7″ x 3-1/2″ labels it spits out aren’t as slick as the Mylar bar codes used in other shops, but they’re a quick, cheap and nearly idiot proof alternative.  Leastwise, this idiot would be lost without them.

You’d be amazed how much information fits on a little paper label; but, even if it’s no more than a matter name and “PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL – SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER,” that might have proved sufficient to forestall the ugly spectacle of Jones’ Connecticut counsel invoking the Fifth Amendment at a disciplinary hearing.

In a similar vein, a five-cent paper label affixed to the back of a laptop or phone is an effective, low-tech way to remind custodians and IT personnel that the device is subject to legal hold before it gets wiped, discarded, sold or traded in.  Is it ALL you need to do for a defensible hold?  Clearly not, but shouldn’t labeling physical media be as much a part of your routine, prudent processes when handling sensitive media as it is part of mine?

I don’t do paper; but my paperless practice demands I keep track of and protect physical media.  Encryption of contents plays a key role, as does a sound chain-of-custody; yet it’s the old-school paper labels that still save the day. 

Brother no longer makes the QL-550, but sells suitable alternatives.  Dymo markets a LabelWriter 550 that looks like my Brother’s twin brother.