28 July 2008

ESI Risk: Seizing Electronic Evidence...

In this issue of Board Member Magazine, Lisa Ferri reminds us of the importance of the risk of Electronic Evidence.

If the only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from the mistakes of others, then directors need to take a lesson from Philip Morris. The tobacco giant was slapped a few years ago with a $2.75 million fine by a federal court. The offense? Wrongful destruction of e-mails, otherwise known in legal circles as spoliation of evidence. The court found that at least 11 Philip Morris executives “at the highest corporate level” were guilty of violating a court order concerning document retention. In other words, they purged and paid the price.

United States of America v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al. is a cautionary tale of the problems awaiting companies that are either unaware of or unprepared for the world of electronic evidence. The rules governing that world are evolving at warp speed.

In the United States, does an employee need the companies permission to seize your computer at the workplace for electronic evidence? In order to be more informed about this procedure and the legal implications in your enterprise, see CCIPS.

Warrantless workplace searches occur often in computer cases and raise unusually complicated legal issues. The starting place for such analysis is the Supreme Court's complex decision in O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709 (1987). Under O'Connor, the legality of warrantless workplace searches depends on often-subtle factual distinctions such as whether the workplace is public sector or private sector, whether employment policies exist that authorize a search, and whether the search is work-related.

Your compliance or legal office can provide you with the guideance for any employee that is suspected of violating company policies with regard to computers crime or theft of confidential information or intellectual property. The question remains, what policy is in existence today and what methods have been utilized for full disclosure to employees that may impact their rights of privacy on the job?

For more help on this subject see: Best Practices for Seizing Electronic Evidence.

Just remember, Forensics and gathering electronic evidence in a criminal matter is in opposition to your recovery. Once a violation has occured, you can make changes, clean up the problem and get back to normal or you can preserve the crime scene for evidence. It's one or the other. If it's not, then that is when you run into problems. Document retention strategies in combination with Forensic Digital Discovery procedures are critical to any organization that cares to mitigate the ongoing risks of electronic evidence.

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