Traditional offices for many businesses are a thing of the past so information needs to shared more often and more widely. Employees may work from their homes and work that’s outsourced to independent contractors could be done in a business’ home city or on another continent. Businesses may also want to share documents with customers, prospective customers and contractors online for easy access. This method of doing business often involves the use of file sharing sites like DropBox or Google Drive. While this may be very convenient it can also result in the loss of legal protections if not done correctly.
“Privilege” is an exception to the rules of evidence when it comes to what can or cannot be used as evidence in litigation. An example is attorney-client privilege, which covers documents or conversations between a client or potential client and an attorney. Depending on what was said or written by whom, when, to whom, that may not be admissible, but it must be communicated in private. A conversation between a client and an attorney behind closed doors in an office may be privileged while the same conversation in a busy restaurant may not be.
Earlier this year a judge in a Virginia federal court in the case of Harleysville Insurance Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc., ruled that Harleysville waived its right to privilege in a lawsuit when one of its employees uploaded documents to an unprotected file sharing site. The judge wrote that by uploading what otherwise would’ve been confidential documents to a site that was accessible by anyone with access to the hyperlink was like leaving them on a public bench for anyone to come along and take a look.