Electronic discovery and staking the electronic trail

The paper shredder's not enough to hide the evidence any more. Some pretty high-profile companies have learned that lesson recently. The majority of business critical data is stored electronically in one form or another, and that's a lot harder to get rid of than the old-fashioned paper trail.

Electronic discovery has hit the legal community, with an increasing amount of courtroom evidence now being introduced in electronic form. Exhibit "A" is now more likely to be an electronic file, than a paper memorandum fished out of a trash can. And, retrieval of these electronic pieces of evidence has become a subcategory of forensic science, with specialists able to put together bits and pieces of evidence that the creators may have thought were completely deleted. It's a wonderful study, if you're trying to find out something, such as what mischief a current or former employee may have been up to; or if you're a prosecutor, what conspiracies may have taken place.

The fact is, with more business being conducted electronically, there is more pressure to store electronic documents securely, especially if you're in financial services or a regulated industry. Paper trails are a must, and there is an obligation to preserve documents, including digital data and e-mail.

If forensic specialists come a-knocking at your door, demanding documentation and old e-mails, what do you do if you haven't archived everything? Sure, a lot of it can be reproduced, but it is expensive and time-consuming. And, if you're the defendant in a case, the cost for discovery is on your shoulders.

Of course, you have nothing to hide, so archiving your electronic documents and e-mail is always a good thing. (And even if you do have something to hide, the specialists can still find it after you've deleted it.)

E-mail in particular has become the focus of legal discovery, although many organizations still do not see e-mail as a business record. However, the long arm of the law does see it that way, which means that archiving e-mail records may become necessary for much of the corporate world.

Fortunately, it's not as unwieldy a process as one might think. Most e-mail software has an archive feature, but for a corporate environment, a more full-featured archiving solution may be called for. E-mail archiving software is available from a number of companies, including StorageTek, whose Email Xcelerator is ideal for situations where regulatory compliance is an issue and storage management a major concern. MailAuditor2000 is another full-service system that allows for off-line storage, summary reporting, and easy retrieval. Systems for archiving e-mail should be transparent to the user, and they typically send old messages to an archive, which can be searched and retrieved as needed.

E-mail is a form of written communication, just as much as a paper memorandum, and care must be taken in what is said, and ultimately, an enterprise must apply uniform archiving policy both to e-mail and paper-based communication.

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