In recent months, stories about the use -- or misuse -- of technology have been filling social media news feeds. Some of these flubs, committed by those unfamiliar with basic technology, have caused great embarrassment; public ridicule by news media, Twitter trolls, and Facebook users has not been the worst outcome, however, as the examples here will show. These cautionary tales about the importance of developing basic tech competency reinforce the growing imperative for lawyers to stay current in tech.
Paul Manafort’s Trail of Converted Documents
In an attempt to misrepresent the profits and losses of his company, President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, allegedly emailed falsified financial documents to his assistant, Rick Gates, thereby creating an incriminating paper trail that resulted in Mr. Manafort's indictment on February 22, 2018. Details of his document-doctoring efforts and his motivation for manipulating his company’s earnings have been covered extensively in any number of news publications, but the important takeaway for those of us in the real world is this: knowing the benefits and risks of using technology is a must. Mr. Manafort's lack of sophistication in using basic tech undoubtedly contributed to his legal trouble because he himself unwittingly preserved the digital evidence of his alleged crimes. Specific proof that he and Mr. Gates falsified financial documents is noted in the indictment as follows:
“Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a “Word” document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that “Word” document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the “Word” document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.”
Kris Kobach’s Metadata Oversight
Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, has built his reputation on ferreting out fraud at the polls and toughening voter ID laws. The enhanced voter ID laws that Kobach promotes as the solution to voter fraud deny new Kansans the right to vote unless they can produce citizenship documents. The ACLU, describing the ID requirement as arbitrary and discriminatory, brought an action against the law that Kobach is now fighting in court. In the resulting trial, Kobach filed in federal court a document in which he forgot to delete his office’s editorial note (saying that a particular argument was “PROBABLY NOT WORTH ARGUING”) and failed to provide a citation for a separate argument. (See p. 62 of the document here.) A revised version of the document was subsequently submitted but not before several news outlets picked up the story of his blunder. The key takeaway here? Be sure to review your work carefully before filing it in court. If you need to inspect your document before sharing it with another party, use the Microsoft Word Document Inspector, which allows you to strip your documents of any hidden metadata.
Broward County’s Redaction Error
Following the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida on February 14, 2018, the Broward public school system commissioned a report to investigate the therapeutic services provided by the school district for the shooter, Nikolas Cruz. Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ordered that the report be released to the public. To protect the shooter’s privacy rights, nearly two-thirds of the content was to be redacted. However, the district failed to use a proper redaction method, allowing a more savvy user to cut and paste the text into another document. The “redacted” text was made visible, revealing a detailed account of the actions taken by the school district to provide services for Nikolas Cruz. Specific information about what emerged from the report is available here. Using proper redaction software such as Adobe Pro or Nitro or any number of other redaction programs is a more effective and reliable way to ensure that the sensitive data contained in your documents is protected.
These are just a few examples of how technology errors can have serious repercussions. Visit the blog again tomorrow for an additional tech flub, again committed by Paul Manafort, that illustrates the importance of protecting the confidential data you store and share on the cloud.