This is an interesting piece by Jason Weinstein and Katie Dubyak at Steptoe & Johnson looking at how chat, and related applications, are so important in government investigations. Whilst I agree with the main sentiment of the piece here, I have to say, I do not think this should be limited to government investigations as this is an increasing prevalent and important form of communication being used right now. Not least given the current surge in home working given the covid pandemic.

This form of messaging is very interesting. It is the closest digital equivalent to speech, which tends to the language and content being less formal, less guarded and less thought through. All of this can lead to very interesting intelligence and evidence being gathered from these sources. It is not only the actual words and messages that are important, but the mining of the metadata associated with them can reveal interesting networks, events and relationships.

Chat messages can also be an incredibly rich vein of intelligence to get a good overview of the situation relatively quickly – especially if you identify key words or phrases used in respect to certain issues. We worked on a case where this was exactly the case. Very quickly the investigation team identified a core group of people discussing the behaviour under review and from there we were able to identify words and phrases that they were using to try and conceal their activities. The flip side to that is that it allowed us to quickly zone in on the critical messages and evidence, thus allowing the investigation to take great leaps forward.

All of this just illustrates the points made in the article and why companies need to be prepared to deal with these applications during investigations and other relevant matters.

I could not agree more with the author’s conclusion: “It is clear that the practice of using messaging apps to conduct business is here to stay. As the number and complexity of these messaging apps continue to proliferate, businesses will need to consider the legal implications of using these applications and develop mechanisms to ensure compliance with discovery demands should they face litigation, or even worse, exposure or involvement in a government investigation.”