High-Tech Sleuths Find E-mail a . . .

Subject: High-Tech Sleuths Find E-mail a . . .
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 1995 09:01:43 EDT

by David
Foster, Associated Press

(Austin American Statesman, Monday, September 25, 1995)

SEATTLE: Computer sleuth John Jessen knows what e-mail lurks in the
heart of America's workplace, and it's not a pretty sight.

Stupid jokes. Love notes. Sexist slurs. Breached confidences.
All are in a day's work as Jessen dredges computer files for
electronic embarrassments thought to be long gone by their authors.

Electronic mail has revolutionized how corporations communicate,
allowing workers to connect with far-flung colleagues in an efficient
and often freewheeling forum.

It might be less freewheeling if people knew how many "deleted"
e-mail messages are actually saved in their computer systems.

They can pile up like little time bombs until someone like
Jessen arrives, carrying a court order and a stack of blank memory

"Can you really delete e-mail? Sure.," Jessen says. "Does it
happen as a common practice? No."

Jessen is the founder of Electronic Evidence Discovery Inc., a
Seattle company that since l987 has been going after computer
evidence in civil lawsuits.

It's a specialized field, to be sure. Jessen's only full-time
competitor is Computer Forensics, Inc., another Seattle firm started
by one of his former employees, Joan Feldman.

Business is booming for both of them.

The nation's estimated 25 million to 40 million users of e-mail
are growing more comfortable--some say careless--with the medium.

And more attorneys are recognizing e-mail's potential as a
source of unguarded information about the companies they're suing.

"People are very candid talking around the coffee machine," says
attorney Michael Patrick in Palo Alto, Calif. "They seem to behave
the same way on the computer system.

"They think they're speaking confidentially, so they're off the
cuff. They're very often insulting. What they don't realize is it's
all being recorded, and often those recordings are stored for a very
long time. When you send a message, you lose control over where it

Los Angeles police officer Laurence Powell learned that lesson
after the Rodney King beating in 1991. "Oops!" began a message that
Powell typed into his squad car's computer. "I haven't beaten anyone
this bad in a long time."

This year, an Air Force pilot's profane e-mail account of Capt.
Scott O'Grady's rescue in Bosnia was made available on the Internet,
much to the Pentagon's chagrin.

"Pray for the U.N. leadership to get a clue and let us blow
these bastards back into the stone age," Capt. Scott Zobrist wrote of
the Bosnian serbs.

Air Force officials said Zobrist, stationed with O-Grady in
Italy, sent the e-mail to a few military friends, never suspecting it
would be forwarded, and forwarded again, until it was posted on the
Internet for anyone to see.

Jessen has his own collection of e-mail tales.

"Hi David," began one message Jessen retrieved from the files of
a company that had fired his client. "Please destroy the evidence on
the (case) you and I talked about today. Thx, Laura."

"David's breezy response, titled "Evidence Destroyed," was
equally incriminating. "Hi Laura. Ack yr msg. And taken care of.
Aloha David."

Many workers think their e-mail is private. It's not. Federal
law allows employers to monitor employee's e-mail, and even if they
don't, e-mail is fair game in lawsuits. When someone sues a company,
the rules of discovery demand that the company produce all relevant
business records.

"The fact that they live in a computer rather than a file
cabinet doesn't make any difference to the court," says Feldman at
Computer Forensics.

Often files retrieved include e-mail thought to have been erased
long ago. It survives because most computer systems are geared
toward saving data, not deleting it.

Suppose one worker sends an ill-considered e-mail to a colleague
at 5 p.m. The recipient logs on the next morning, reads the
offending message and immediately deletes it, then phones the sender
and makes sure the original is deleted, too.

Problem solved? Hardly. They've forgotten about their diligent
computer system manager, who makes backup tapes of everything on the
system every night, then stores those tapes for years.

Or suppose someone downloads an e-mail onto their desktop PC,
storing it on the hard drive. Contrary to what most computer users
think, a click of the "delete" key doesn't really erase that file.
It merely renames it and makes that spot on the disk available for
new data. The file remains, readable by anyone who knows how, until

And so the files persist and multiply, aided by technological
advances that continually add more storage capacity, more automatic
backups, and more redundancies to safeguard data from accidental

"The computer is like a file cabinet that can open its own
drawer, put a file on the copy machine and then slip the copy into
another cabinet," Jessen says. "Sometimes I think it's alive."

Jessen and Feldman augment their high-tech detective work by
advising companies how to become less vulnerable to computer snoops
like themselves.

They recommend regular purges of old data, and they offer tips
for avoiding e-mail blunders in the first place. Rule No. 1: Don't
put anything on e-mail that you wouldn't want a jury to see.

Fear of lawsuits may take the fun out of electronic mail. But
Feldman, for one, thinks it's time this form of business
communication became more businesslike.

As she trolls for naughty bits to help her clients, she is
struck by the banality of most e-mail.

"A lot of it is kind of juvenile, pointless," Feldman says.
"It's cyber-chatter. Some people seem to have too much time at work.

Associated Press, Sept. 25, 1995

SEATTLE. Why are people so prone to committing stupidity on
electronic mail?

The medium encourages it, researchers say.

There are fewer cues to proper behavior in e-mail than in face-
to-face encounters, which give people a rich social context in which
to frame their comments, says Sara Kiesler, a professor of social and
decision sciences at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

A company picnic, for example, will elicit different discussion
than a business meeting with suits and ties.

"All these cues about how to behave aren't present in the
interface." Kiesler says. "This absence of information tends to
deregulate things."

Electronic mail has been praised as a way to even the corporate
playing field. Status differences fade, inhibitions drop and
creativity rises when everyone is reduced to words on a computer

But insults and angry language also increase. Known among
computer users as "flaming," the phenomenon appears related to the
sense of anonymity that turns some usually polite people into epithet-
hurling jerks when they drive down the highway.

E-mail also seems to many users like a private, fleeting form of
communication, though in reality it is neither.

Finally, the most avid computer users often are male, young and
socially inexperienced. The very guys who are most technically
proficient," attorney Michael Patrick says, "They love to get on the
computer. It's a 'let's go to the secret clubhouse' mentality."

Ginger Jones
FFKB48A -at- Prodigy -dot- com

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