A paper shredder works wonders on a paper trail, but getting data trails to disappear is another matter.

Count Enron and Arthur Andersen among those who learned the hard way when e-mail and document management became a very public learning experience.

“”It taught the corporate world that

the average office shredder does nothing to alter computers where the vast majority of paper documents are created, communicated and stored,”” says Coreen Lawton, a lawyer with McCarthy Tétrault, speaking in Toronto recently to a group of Canadian StorageTek customers.

Lawton says there are three reasons to archive from a legal perspective: corporate liability management, corporate asset protection and meeting legal record retention requirements.

And with more business being conducted through e-mail, the pressure to store electronic documents securely is growing. According to IDC figures, 60 per cent of business-critical data is now stored in e-mail, including contracts, intellectual property and company know-how, up from 30 per cent in 1998.

“”The obligation to preserve documents for an investigation or a trial is well known and includes digital data, including e-mail,”” Lawton said.

And when forensic auditors come calling, it can be a costly process to produce deleted or unarchived documents. Electronic evidence is quickly becoming a point of focus for evidence-gathering, or “”discovery”” as it is referred to in legal circles.

“”It’s creating enormous problems for many organizations. In most civil cases, the defendant bears much of the cost in responding to a discovery request,”” Lawton said.

It can be costly to resurrect electronic documents when proper archiving is not conducted. Often when handed a legal order to produce information, many organizations are opting to settle out of court rather than go to the expense of having information recovered.

In litigation, both parties will often require each other to produce copies of past e-mails satisfying particular characteristics. For example, a plaintiff in a cigarette company may request all e-mail containing the word ‘illness’ or ‘cancer.’

“”Responding to such a discovery request, which can also be just a fishing expedition, is extremely expensive to do manually,”” said Lawton, noting a recent case in the U.S. where a company spent up to US$1 million to comply with a court order.

“”You can delete all day long, but it can still be brought back,”” says Bill Tolson, storage solutions marketing manager with StorageTek. “”Most companies don’t see e-mail as a business record, but most judges in Canada, the U.S. and Europe do.””

StorageTek provides e-mail archiving software that offers the storage, management, compliance and regulatory surveillance (in the financial industry) of e-mail. The system is invisible to the user and means they can have an unlimited number of messages on their computer. Old messages are sent to an archive, but can be retrieved when needed.

Tolson says while many companies are concerned about legal implications, so far more interest has come from organizations looking to streamline their archiving process and reduce costs.

According to StorageTek, the average e-mail server is saturated in 18 days and IT administrators spend eight to 12 hours per week on e-mail backup and archiving.

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