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VoIP, Web conferences add to compliance confusion

Should you be recording Web conference chats? What about audio records? It's confusing territory for IT execs striving for compliance.

Earlier this month, WebEx Communications announced a nifty new service for its financial services clients. For the nominal cost of one additional meeting participant, customers using WebEx technology for web-based conferencing can automatically record their entire online meeting -- audio, video, chats and power points -- in a compressed format that is easily stored, searched and produced.

"The whole recording can be replayed as a mini-movie," said Douglas Louie, senior industry manager for WebEx. "We provide them with the raw data and they will store it according to their retention policies."

The question is: Why would anyone want to?

The answer, like so many issues related to compliance requirements, is murky. In addition to Powerpoint presentations, any typed chat that occurs during an online meeting might be a printed record federal regulators would want retained, experts say.

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But industry analysts and legal experts agree it's a very gray area.

The WebEx product is being marketed as a compliance tool for financial firms and other companies required to retain business records. The SEC requires banks and broker-dealers to keep written business communications for a period of three years. When the SEC expanded rules 17a-4 and 17a-3 in 1997 to include newer technology, such as e-mails and instant messaging, no one paid much attention to Web meetings, Louie said. But clearly, an online meeting contains written communications. That includes the possibility of impromptu, and possibly ill-advised comments, in its chat feature. Some WebEx clients opted to disable the chat feature, rather than worry about how to capture the data, he said.

VoIP adds another wrinkle

Lisa Sotto, partner in the New York office of Hunton & Williams and head of the firm's privacy and information management practice, said the onus of deciding whether a Web record should be retained would be determined by the company's legal counsel and internal records retention policy makers. The trick is that it's unlikely that its relevance can be determined in advance, she said

How should companies view Web conferencing, with its mix of audio, video, chat and Powerpoint presentations?

"If there is a business need for capturing a seminar, then companies should clearly go forward and do it and then determine if they need to keep it, pursuant to their policy or legal hold," Sotto said.

The impetus for WebEx's "Retention Solution," as it is called, came from a global investment bank that wanted to be able to automatically archive its online meetings data for compliance purposes.

"Nobody was out there beating them with a stick, but they don't need to wait for the fine. This is another element that will help them sleep a little better at night," Louie said. One of the boasting features of the WebEx product is that it can't be turned off by employees. But it can be tailored to capture the entire meeting or any piece of the meeting for the record, according to a company's policies, says spokesman Colin Smith.

"We're not out there trying to define policies," Smith said. "We are giving them the ability to align their Web conferencing with their other retention policies."

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