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Companies Scramble to Archive E-mail

Legal and regulatory requirements force costly projects.

By Brian Fonseca
July 23, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Regulatory and legal issues are forcing IT managers to create costly e-mail storage and archival systems as electronic documents replace paper as official business records.

Users and analysts note that courts and regulators are increasingly pushing companies to produce stored e-mail documents on demand or face penalties.

For example, allegations that Intel Corp. failed to properly archive potentially critical e-mail messages  some written by its top executives  could prove crucial in an antitrust lawsuit filed against it by rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in 2005.

Jason King
Jason King
The company failed to produce e-mails for the court by March 2007, prompting Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD to charge that the chip maker was negligent in not saving or archiving the disputed documents.

The Delaware federal court extended Intels deadline until August, noted a company spokesman.

Were in the process of going through literally millions and millions of e-mails, he said. The spokesman declined to reveal exactly what Intel is doing to retrieve the documents, or what may happen if they arent retrieved in full.

Archived e-mail has also become a critical part of a class-action lawsuit that charges Best Buy Co. and Microsoft Corp. with signing up thousands of customers to Microsofts MSN online service  and eventually charging their credit cards  without permission.

One lawyer representing Best Buy last month admitted to falsifying at least two e-mails that were handed over to the plaintiffs. The lawyers firm, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP in Minneapolis, has since voluntarily withdrawn from the case.

Beth Terrell, a partner at Seattle-based Tousley Brain Stephens PLLC, which is co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said that Best Buys initial delay in delivering pertinent archived e-mails raised suspicion.

We had all this e-mail coming from Microsoft discussing basically the issues that are key to our case, and some of them were discussions with Best Buy, she said. We were getting virtually no electronic documents or e-mail from Best Buy. It seemed very suspicious to us.

Best Buy did not respond to a request for comment on the four-year-old case.

Terrell said she is astonished that executives continue to use e-mail  which she called a powerful [legal] tool  as an unofficial means of communication.

You find corporate officials making admissions in e-mail that you would not find anywhere else, and a lot of the time, they forget they made those admissions, remarked Terrell.

Brian Babineau, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group, said that his firms research has found that three out of four organizations that go through court-ordered electronic discoveries must produce e-mails related to the queries.

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