Computer Detectives Uncover “Smoking Guns” In Old E-mail And Computer Backup Tapes
FRAMINGHAM, MA, June 11, 1997 – Aggressive lawyers are increasingly
hiring computer sleuths to comb through a company's old electronic mail,
backup tapes and other nooks and crannies of computer systems to find legal
evidence of wrongdoing, according to Computerworld, the leading newsweekly
for information technology (IT) leaders.
Computer forensics evidence has already turned the tide in major corporate
litigation, including trade secret and sexual harassment cases,
Computerworld newspaper reports in a Page One story appearing the week of
June 9th. Discovery requests for computer files have jumped from 2% of all
discovery requests to 30% in the past five years, Computerworld reports.
The experts in the field of computer forensics – ranging from former
Secret Service agents and retired military investigators to hard-core geeks
are professionals who root around a company's information systems and look
for evidence of past computer, e-mail, and data files, according to
Computerworld. Sometimes a company hires such experts, but more often they
are hired by opposing attorneys seeking the "smoking gun" that could lead to
a courtroom victory.
For example, Vermont Microsystems, Inc. won $25.5 million in a 1994
trade secrets theft case after the discovery that file directories at
Autodesk, Inc. had the same names as the original directories at Vermont
Microsystems. Electronic evidence also played a role when Chevron Corp.
paid four plaintiffs $2.2 million in 1995 to settle a sexual harassment case
that involved allegedly offensive E-mail, Computerworld reports.
Similar lawsuits involving allegations of sexist or racist computer
messages are pending against Citibank, Morgan Stanley & Co. and R. R.
Donnelley & Sons Co.
According to Computerworld, producing court-approved electronic
evidence isn't cheap, sometimes running into six or seven figures. Some
judges have said computer files are no different from paper files, so
defendants must, at their own expense, collect and produce electronic
information requested by plaintiffs during the evidence discovery process.
But other courts have ordered plaintiffs — who usually make the request for
evidence — to pay for the job. Either way, Computerworld sources
indicate that computer evidence is expensive to identify, locate, copy and
produce. In corporate cases, costs can run from $30,000 to $100,000 or more,
depending on the scope of the inquiry. Million-dollar price tags aren't
unheard of, Computerworld states.
Corporations would do well to protect themselves, the experts
recommend. Electronic files contain much more information than paper, and