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