Recently, Yahoo has come under scrutiny after a judge ordered the company to provide documentation as well `as a witness to detail how users’ deleted emails are dealt with.
The case has been brought up in connection with a drug trafficking case which involved deleted emails on Yahoo.
Russell Knaggs’ Deleted Emails
During the time Russell Knaggs, from Yorkshire in the UK, was serving a 16-year sentence in jail, he devised a scheme to import 5 tons of cocaine from Colombia hidden in fruit boxes.
This was in the year 2009. A case was charged against him based on emails (that were allegedly deleted) between him and his collaborators.
The email account was purportedly created to discuss the drug deal.
The procedure followed was this: a conspirator would log into the email account email@example.com and write a draft that another conspirator would read elsewhere.
He would then delete the draft and remove it from the trash folder.
The second conspirator would then proceed to write his own draft. All this was done to keep information out of reach of law enforcement officials.
However, these were later produced in court by Yahoo. The company has now been asked to explain how this was done with supporting evidence and a witness.
The defense lawyers for Knaggs and other Internet privacy supporters have pointed out the inconsistent manner in which Yahoo has managed to produce deleted emails in court relating to the case.
This has gone against what Michele Lai, the records custodian and head of the Yahoo US Law Enforcement Response Team, had said about deleted emails.
Michele had earlier said that any email deleted by a user becomes inaccessible to proprietary tools used to collect communications data when there are preservations requests and search warrants.
Later, in court, Yahoo was, however, able to produce the deleted Knaggs’ emails spanning six months.
This prompted the defense to file a “discover order.” Judge Maria-Elena James has since granted the defense’s discovery motion.
The company responded saying that it was the multi-step “Autosave” feature of the system that helped them to retrieve the emails that were deleted.
The email drafts were backed up on the server.
Company officials explained that there are many steps involved in the deletion procedure when the user deletes an email draft.
When the user updates, changes or deletes an email draft, it is only one of the steps of deletion.
However, the previous draft versions of the emails are not removed when the user deletes an email.
Though the user is not able to see the previous versions, these remain on the backup server till the entire deletion process is over.
Yahoo was still able to capture the draft snapshots of the emails from the account and produce it in court, they explained.
The discovery motion of the defense, however, insisted that Yahoo should provide additional information about how they stores/retains users’ emails, the software code that pertains to the email retention system, and the events involved in the retrieval of deleted emails.
When Yahoo protested saying it was not even a defendant in the case, Judge Maria-Elena has asked Yahoo to bring a witness to the court to talk about email accounts and also about the different steps involved in the retrieval of deleted emails from the system.
She has also trimmed the list of documents that are to be produced by Yahoo.
The judge has asked Yahoo to provide the documentation and witness by 31st August.
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