Digital dictation is becoming the method of choice for modern law firms, but what implications does it have for legal privilege?

A recent post on Slaw, Canada’s online legal magazine, concluded that it was advisable not to use digital dictation devices such as the iPhone’s Siri feature for any dictated information to which one intends legal privilege to attach. The reason behind avoiding this device in particular arose due to the revelation that information that is dictated on the iPhone 4S using the Siri dictation feature is sent to servers in the US, and that Apple and its related companies and agents have full access to the contents of what is dictated.  The post also claimed that as Apple’s servers were located in the US, any dictated files might be scanned for national security purposes by the US Government pursuant to powers given to it under the Patriot Act. The conclusion not to use iPhone’s Siri dictation feature in this case is drawn from the Canadian Bar’s Association’s ‘Guidelines for Practicing Ethically with New Information Technologies’, which state that: “Lawyers should exercise the same care to protect the confidentiality and privilege of electronic communications as is normally expected of them using any traditional form of communication.”

We are concerned that conclusions such as this will deter solicitors and lawyers from using digital dictation. Despite the claims that using Siri might void any form of legal privilege attached to confidential information which has been dictated, it does not mean that all digital dictation devices must be avoided. If one is concerned that a country’s government may legally scan files as a matter of national security, then it would mean avoiding any form of electronic communication such as email, video conferencing or telephone, as these forms of communication are also liable to this type of monitoring. In most cases, confidential information remains confidential until there is a reason to suspect otherwise, and only authorities of the law will ever have access to this information in such cases.

If solicitors and lawyers are still concerned about the implications of using digital dictation, then companies such as Language Insight will work with legal clients to cater to their individual needs. In most cases, legal clients will be provided with a hand-held dictation machine that records their speech as an audio file, and this machine can be used by you and your colleagues. These audio files can then be uploaded to our unique file manager and sent to experienced legal secretaries to be transcribed. Legal privilege is 100% secured because the file manager that we use is entirely bespoke, and its workflow system has been designed with client privacy and security in mind. As such, all files are sent using end to end SSL encryption, safeguarding your files against both interference and any attempt at file manipulation.

Image credit: Jan Kuča