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How to Streamline Cross-Border Data Transfers in White Collar Investigations

Jackie Flynn Sheckels -- BDO

From uncooperative witnesses and language barriers to written consent requirements and regulatory approvals, there are many factors involved with large-scale global investigations. On top of that, investigators are often faced with a slew of data privacy laws and regulations governing how data is sent across continents.

When conducting a cross-border investigation, one of the first decisions an investigations team needs to make is how to collect and ultimately review case data, while navigating local privacy laws. Even the most experienced teams conducting global white collar crime investigations will need to include the following in their project plan: data protection agreement (DPA) negotiations, data transfer options, and foreign language review capabilities.

Negotiating Data Protection Agreements

BDO, one of the leading global networks of professional services firms, has significant experience with global investigations. One of the requirements investigations teams have seen in recent years is establishing a lawful transfer mechanism for engagements involving cross-border data transfers, to the extent required under applicable privacy and data protection laws. Some organizations with investigations practices, like BDO, are able to transfer data under regulator-approved Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs), which are widely considered the gold standard for data transfers. Other organizations may be required to use another transfer mechanism, such as the new EU Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs), to stay in compliance with local data privacy laws.

When negotiating DPAs, organizations should consult their legal counsel, and typically will need to consider the scope of covered data types, applicable law, and risk allocation terms. Before taking on an engagement, organizations must fully understand the privacy regulations regarding data transfers for the countries involved in an investigation and the risk profile of the engagement. (If you’d like to learn more about data protection, cross-border data transfer, and privacy topics, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has a wonderful library of resources that can help.)

Innovative Options for Data Hosting

In addition to negotiating a DPA, investigators must determine where to host the data for review after it is collected. With an appropriate transfer mechanism in place, there are a variety of options available based on the sensitivities and complexities of each matter.

In the past, organizations would select from the following traditional data transfer methods:

  • Collect data on a hard drive and then either ship that hard drive or use a courier to physically transport it.
  • Collect and host data in-country.
  • Use an appliance to process and host data located onsite at the client, the law firm office or professional services firm office. This option is hosted on servers procured specifically for the investigation, which are set up completely independently of network servers and other systems.

With advancements in RelativityOne and today’s innovative workflows, BDO has two effective solutions to advance global document review:

  • Optimize the use of secure Azure Cloud services (referred to as blob-to-blob) to expedite the transfer of data and reduce processing times.
    • This option reduces hard drive shipping and customs delays, resulting in data being processed and ready for hosted review faster than using a traditional data transfer method.
  • Optimize data processing and hosting services between two locations within a global organization.
    • BDO offers clients a custom solution to de-duplicate and distribute reviewer coding through a centralized and anonymized process while synchronizing reviewer tags across multiple countries. An example of this scenario would be when a parent international company in the APAC region does not want its data transferred and comingled with its US subsidiary’s data. This option may reduce storage costs and review costs by an additional 20 percent.

Foreign Language Document Review

Most cross-border investigations involve documents in different languages. The organization’s review team needs to be able to review those documents quickly in their native language. In 2022, Relativity introduced Translate, which offers AI-powered machine translation directly within RelativityOne for more than 100 languages. This new functionality translates documents in their native format rapidly, without requiring a third-party service.

Translations happen directly in RelativityOne, saving customers time they used to spend exporting and importing documents. Teams can translate large batches of documents or single documents on the fly when time is of the essence. BDO has a great deal of experience leveraging a variety of machine translation solutions. For more information on what options are traditionally used beyond Translate in RelativityOne, read this blog post.

Finding and Collecting All Types of Data—No Matter Where It Lives

People everywhere, including white-collar criminals, are increasingly using short message platforms, like Slack and Microsoft Teams, as well as multi-purpose messaging services such as WhatsApp and WeChat, to coordinate illegal activities. Short messages are informal, immediate, and often less guarded than email, making short message data a crucial component in white-collar crime investigations. Much of the key evidentiary data (a.k.a. “the smoking gun”) will be in these formats and investigation teams must be prepared to collect, process, and review this data to build a strong case.

However, collecting, extracting, and reviewing short message data can pose unique challenges that traditional email data collection does not. The context of each message is vital to the review process, and subtleties such as timing and reactions can be easily missed without modern tools.

Relativity Short Message Format (RSMF) helps investigators review relevant short message data by showing the messages in their native context to help investigators piece together timelines and tell their story effectively. It is crucial to have effective tools like this in place for investigative teams to build a complete case.

Streamline Your Next White-Collar Investigation

Cross-border investigations can be a challenge to navigate since there are so many hoops to jump through, but if you have the right people, investigation software, and processes in place, you can streamline the operation to achieve quicker analysis and better outcomes.

To learn more about Relativity’s investigation capabilities, stop by BDO’s booth at the American Bar Association’s 38th National Institute on White Collar Crime, where the team will be demonstrating newly released features. The BDO team will also host evening events and would love to connect with you and your team. Contact Jackie Sheckels if you are planning to be in Miami for the conference and would like to connect at the event.

Graphics for this article were created by Natalie Andrews.

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Jackie Flynn Sheckels is the business development leader for BDO’s Forensics Practice. Jackie routinely consults with large domestic and international clients in the hospitality, medical device, technology, government contracting, energy, and construction industries with regard to formulating defensible discovery strategies, data analytics, collection plans, data extraction, forensic analysis, and document review. She can be contacted at