What is Chain of Custody?

Posted by Dan Gallivan | Wed, Mar 27, 2024

Picture this: you find yourself in a courtroom, presenting a vital email as proof of a legal matter. However, the opposing attorney complicates matters by suggesting that the email may have been manipulated.

The reason for this is that they can contend that there is no assurance that the email you possess is indeed the identical one that originated from the source. In the contemporary era of eDiscovery, the criticality of the chain of custody becomes apparent as it serves as an essential lifeline for ensuring the acceptance and reliability of electronic evidence.

But, what is a chain of custody? In simple words, to define a chain of custody, we may say it refers to a systematic process that ensures the proper documentation and control of the transfer of evidence or information throughout its progression from one individual or entity to another.

Consider it as a comprehensive record book that traces the path of evidence, starting from its inception to its ultimate introduction in the courtroom. It methodically records every individual involved in the handling of the evidence, noting the precise time and place of each transfer as well as any measures undertaken.

The careful documentation guarantees that the evidence remains untampered, unchanged, or jeopardized in any manner.

Importance of the Chain of Custody

You may also ask, Why is the chain of custody important?Well, within the conventional world of tangible evidence, a torn shirt adorned with bloodstains clearly conveys its own story. However, within the domain of digital information, the situation becomes more complex.

Emails have the potential to be forwarded, modified, or possibly counterfeited. The chain of custody serves as a protective measure by establishing a transparent and provable sequence of events that ensures the credibility of the evidence presented, demonstrating that it has remained unaltered during the entirety of the eDiscovery procedure.

Importance of Preserving Chain of Custody in eDiscovery

To understand why the chain of custody is important, we must first know that the success of eDiscovery relies on the capacity to gather, assess, and exhibit electronic data as proof in legal proceedings, which includes the usage of eDiscovery software. The utmost importance lies in upholding a chain of custody.

  • Ensuring Admissibility of Evidence: A strong chain of custody provides compelling evidence that the gathered data remains untampered with and faithfully represents the initial information. This solidifies the legal basis of your evidence and enhances its likelihood of being accepted in a court of law.
  • Maintaining Data Integrity: The chain of custody serves as a protective measure against allegations of data tampering. It guarantees that the presented data veracity reflects the source, thereby instilling confidence in the eDiscovery process."

Chain of Custody Procedure

Let's delve into the practical steps involved in establishing a chain of custody:

  • Establishing a Chain of Custody Protocol: The initial stage involves having a transparent and precisely outlined chain of custody procedure. This procedure should delineate the methods for gathering, conserving, managing, and transferring digital evidence.
  • Maintaining Continuity and Accountability: The documentation of every individual involved in handling the evidence during the eDiscovery process is imperative. This entails recording information such as the person who gathered the data, the time it was transferred, and its current storage location.

Documentation of Evidence in Chain of Custody

Comprehensive documentation is crucial when it comes to the chain of custody record. It should serve as a detailed log, carefully recording each step taken throughout the process.

This includes noting timestamps, identifying individuals involved, documenting actions performed on the data (such as copying), and highlighting any implemented security measures. In fact, theres a whole world specializing in eDiscovery for law firms as its of primary importance to preserve digital data and evidence in a safe way.

Chain of Custody Best Practices

To solidify the foundation of a strong chain of custody, implementing these best practices is crucial:

  • Implementing write-blocking techniques guarantees the integrity of the original data source by preventing any modifications during the collection procedure.
  • Ensure the implementation of secure storage solutions by storing the collected data on protected servers with access controls in order to avoid unauthorized alterations.
  • Ensure thorough records are kept. Record each and every data interaction, noting the exact time, user identifications, and any actions taken.
  • Ongoing training is crucial for informing personnel engaged in the eDiscovery process about the significance of the chain of custody and appropriate handling protocols.

Preserving Chain of Custody in eDiscovery

Consider a situation in which an employee is alleged to have engaged in misconduct, where emails play a vital role as essential proof. Adhering to appropriate procedures for the chain of custody would entail:

  • IT staff utilize write-blocking tools to gather emails while maintaining the original content without any modifications.
  • The gathered information will be securely stored on servers, with limited access granted exclusively to authorized individuals.
  • A comprehensive record would ensure the veracity of the gathering process, encompassing the specific date, time, personnel engaged, and any precautionary measures implemented.

Breaking the Chain of Custody

Maintaining a meticulous chain of custody is paramount in eDiscovery. However, even minor lapses in protocol can have severe consequences. Any action that compromises the documented trail of evidence, from collection to presentation, constitutes a break in the chain.

Consequences of Chain of Custody Violations

Not upholding a sufficient chain of custody can result in serious consequences:

  • If the opposing party successfully disputes the chain of custody, the judge may consider the evidence inadmissible, subsequently undermining the strength of your case, even in the early case assessment
  • Monetary consequences may arise. Violations of eDiscovery protocols can lead to courts imposing penalties, which can result in substantial financial fines.
  • Reputational harm is on the table as well! An impaired reputation resulting from mishandling evidence can erode trust and undermine your legal position.

Chain of Digital Evidence

Until now, we have seen how the chain of custody serves as the fundamental basis for establishing trust and dependability in eDiscovery. By diligently recording the management of digital evidence, you guarantee its genuineness and establish a solid foundation for its effective introduction in legal proceedings.

It is important to keep in mind that a robust chain of custody is not solely a legal obligation, but rather an essential principle for maintaining the integrity of the complete eDiscovery procedure.

Importance of Preserving Chain of Custody in eDiscovery

As reliance on cloud storage solutions continues to grow, additional factors must be taken into account when considering the chain of custody process.

  • Understanding Cloud Storage Providers' Policies: Gain knowledge of the data security measures and access controls provided by your cloud service provider to comprehend the policies of cloud storage providers.
  • Implementing Secure Retrieval Methods: Employ tools and strategies that guarantee the integrity of data as it is extracted from the cloud.
  • Documenting Cloud-Based Actions: Recording activities performed on cloud-based data, including actions like accessing, moving, or erasing, must be carefully documented within the log of the custody trial.


Now that we know what a chain of custody is, we can understand that maintaining the continuity of custody in eDiscovery is a collective obligation. The responsibility for upholding the authenticity of electronic evidence falls upon legal teams, IT specialists, and eDiscovery vendors alike, with each party playing a vital part.

Through collaborative efforts and placing utmost importance on thorough record-keeping of each interaction, all individuals engaged can guarantee the successful presentation of digital evidence and maintain the credibility of the eDiscovery procedure.