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Electronically stored information (ESI) is stored electronic information that is created and communicated in digital form.
ESI is often used to refer to electronic data obtained by legal teams for litigation purposes. The term was legally defined by an amendment to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), which govern civil procedure in U.S. federal courts and include rules pertaining to preservation orders for electronic information.
ESI is acquired and frozen by legal staff when prosecuting a case. The methods employed by legal staff to seek electronic information are known as electronic data discovery. The FRCP amendment provides judges with guidelines to ascertain whether ESI is warranted. Judges can issue orders for garnishing electronically stored information, but before doing so they must determine whether the scope of electronic discovery is warranted in view of possible trial outcomes.
ESI is voluminous in nature. Computer systems do not physically move data around from location to location as paper information is moved; instead, they duplicate it on different media in different locations. As a result, ESI is seldom lost or erased because even when a user deletes information it is often renamed and stored elsewhere on the computer, making deleted ESI easy to recover. ESI can also include backup data, metadata and legacy data.
Even if legal counsel obtains ESI for a case, however, they may find themselves in ill favor with the judge if they fail to outline a clear and transparent plan for using the ESI.