Minimizing E-Mail Exposure in Your Firm

Did you know that a deleted e-mail message can be used in an audit, in courtroom litigation, or as evidence in harrassment issues?

If you thought you could delete all evidence of unwanted messages, think again. Electronic evidence, especially e-mail, is playing an ever-expanding role in litigation, not just because e-mail has largely become the preferred method of communication in the workplace, but also because of its distinct qualities.

In a recent article in The New York Law Journal and reproduced at, experts explain just how easy it is to detect fraud using e-mail evidence. Kris Haworth, a manager with Deloitte & Touche's Forensic & Investigative Services Group in San Francisco, is a cyberavenger who specializes in electronic evidence recovery and analysis. She describes e-mail as being virtually impossible to destroy. "Short of taking your hard drive and having it run over by a Mack truck, you can't ever be sure that anything is truly deleted from your computer," Haworth explained.

Haworth also mentions that unsent draft messages and attached documents are recoverable, as are changes that were entered in the message before the final version was sent, and the source computer on which the message was typed.

Armed with an appreciation of the fact that deleted e-mail messages are not necessarily disposed of permanently, and information relating to the message is recoverable, here are some precautions that are recommended for protecting your company against risk and exposure:

  • Firms concerned about messages being sent by employees should consider adopting a policy of monitoring e-mail. Make sure employees are informed of this policy and sign an agreement showing their willingness to abide by the policy or face consequences.
  • Know the legal ramifications of e-mail privacy in the workplace. AccountingWEB recently hosted a workshop in which Dr. Steven Abraham presented information about the laws facing employers in this area.
  • Advise employees of what is and is not appropriate e-mail communication, both externally, with clients and customers, and internally, with co-workers.
  • Treat e-mail the way you would any other document going out under the firm's letterhead. See the recent AccountingWEB story for tips on keeping a professional tone in e-mail messages.
  • Consider investing in a retention and retrieval software program that will help organize and search through stored e-mail message, thus enabling you to minimize cost if you are required to reproduce documents in court.
  • As a last resort - consider not using e-mail, or using the service extremely cautiously. Employees should understand the possible risk to which they are subjecting their firm every time they click that Send button.

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