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The Pros and Cons of Using Google Vault for Evidence

By Ann Halkett posted 07-12-2023 16:00


Please enjoy this blog posted on behalf of: Dave Caballes, Senior Manager and Leader of Deloitte Canada’s Computer Forensics practice.

In the digital age, where vast amounts of information are stored electronically, organizations require efficient methods to manage and preserve electronic evidence for various purposes, including legal matters, investigations, and compliance. Google Vault, a robust data retention and eDiscovery tool, has gained popularity among businesses and individuals. This blog will discuss the pros and cons of using Google Vault for evidence preservation, helping you understand its benefits and potential limitations.

The Pros of Using Google Vault for Evidence:

Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

Compliance with legal and industry-specific regulations is essential for organizations operating in regulated industries. Organizations must adhere to data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). When collecting evidence using Google Vault, it is essential to ensure that personal and sensitive information is handled and protected in accordance with these regulations. Google Vault helps meet these requirements by offering data retention policies. The technology enables organizations to define retention periods for different types of data, ensuring that information is retained for the required duration, and disposed of appropriately when no longer needed. The different types of data include email communication, chat messages, documents and files, and voice recordings for Google Meet. This compliance-friendly feature provides peace of mind to businesses dealing with sensitive data. It is important for organizations to assess their specific compliance and regulatory obligations when establishing retention periods for different types of data in Google Vault.  

Centralized Data Management
Google Vault provides a centralized platform for managing and preserving electronic evidence. It allows users to easily search, retain, and export data from various Google services, such as Gmail, Google Drive, and Hangouts. This centralized approach streamlines the evidence collection process, making it more efficient and convenient. Organizations can save time and effort in locating and managing evidence by having all relevant data in one place.

Legal Hold and Preservation
Google Vault offers a legal hold feature that ensures the preservation and immutability of electronic evidence. Often, organizations need to place custodian data (emails, project files, and work product) on legal hold in anticipation of dispute resolution, investigation, or regulatory response. By placing data on legal hold, organizations can prevent its deletion or alteration, even if the original user attempts to modify or delete it. This capability is crucial for maintaining the integrity of evidence in legal and regulatory matters.
Search Capabilities
One of the significant advantages of Google Vault is its search functionality. Users can search for specific keywords, dates, senders, recipients, and other criteria to quickly locate relevant evidence. This feature is valuable in scenarios where large volumes of data need to be sifted through to find specific information. The advanced search capabilities of Google Vault enable users to narrow down the search results and identify the most relevant evidence efficiently.

Simplified eDiscovery Process
Gathering electronic evidence for legal purposes can be complex and time-consuming. Google Vault simplifies this process by providing an intuitive interface for managing and exporting data. It allows users to create specific search queries, apply filters, and export data in various formats, such as PST or MBOX. This streamlines the collection phase of the eDiscovery process, saving time, reducing costs, and increasing overall efficiency. 

The Cons of Using Google Vault for Evidence:

Limited Data Coverage
While Google Vault can manage and preserve data from various Google services, it has limitations regarding data coverage. It primarily focuses on Google-owned services, such as Gmail and Google Drive, excluding non-Google platforms and applications. This limitation poses challenges when dealing with evidence stored outside the Google ecosystem, requiring organizations to employ additional tools or methods to capture and manage such data.
Potential Data Loss
Although Google Vault offers data preservation, there is still a risk of data loss. Technical glitches, errors, or system failures can result in data loss or failure in capturing evidence. While Google takes extensive measures to ensure data integrity and disaster fail-over, organizations should have backup and recovery mechanisms in place to mitigate the risk of potential data loss. Relying solely on Google Vault without implementing appropriate data backup strategies can leave organizations vulnerable to data loss and claims of spoliation, which can have significant implications for legal proceedings or compliance requirements.

Cost Considerations
Google Vault is not a free service, and its cost can be a significant factor for organizations, especially those with extensive data retention and eDiscovery requirements. The pricing structure of Google Vault is based on the number of users and the amount of data being retained. As the volume of data and the number of users increases, the cost of using Google Vault can become substantial. This cost factor may deter smaller organizations or individuals with limited budgets from utilizing the full capabilities of Google Vault for evidence management. It is important for organizations to carefully evaluate their budget and weigh the cost of using Google Vault against the benefits it provides.
Dependence on Google Services
Using Google Vault for evidence management means relying on Google's infrastructure and services. While Google has a robust and reliable infrastructure, organizations must consider the potential risks associated with dependence on a single provider. If there are any service disruptions or outages on Google's end, access to and availability of evidence stored in Google Vault can be impacted. Organizations should have contingency plans in place to handle such situations and ensure uninterrupted access to critical evidence, especially during time-sensitive matters.

Learning Curve and Training
Adopting Google Vault as an evidence management tool may require some training and familiarization with the platform. While Google Vault is designed to be user-friendly, organizations and individuals new to the platform may need time and resources to fully understand its features and functionalities. This learning curve can impact the efficiency of evidence management initially and may require additional support or training for users to maximize the benefits of Google Vault.

Data Sovereignty and Privacy Concerns
When using Google Vault, organizations must consider the implications of data sovereignty and privacy. As a cloud-based service, Google Vault stores data on servers located in various regions or countries. This can raise concerns about data jurisdiction and compliance with local data protection regulations. Organizations operating in highly regulated industries or those dealing with sensitive information may have specific data sovereignty and privacy requirements. It is crucial to assess and address these concerns before adopting Google Vault for evidence management to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
In conclusion, while Google Vault offers numerous benefits for evidence management, including centralized data management, robust search capabilities, and compliance support, it is essential to consider the limitations and potential drawbacks. Understanding the pros and cons of Google Vault for evidence collection is essential for organizations seeking to leverage its capabilities. By evaluating these factors, organizations can make informed decisions regarding the use of Google Vault in their evidence collection processes. 

Biography – Dave Caballes
Dave is a highly skilled and experienced Deloitte Canada professional specializing in providing strategic guidance to companies on forensic collections. With a deep understanding of digital forensics and e-discovery, Dave has earned a reputation for his expertise in helping organizations navigate complex legal and regulatory challenges.