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Just because you delete an e-mail doesn’t mean it’s gone. The latest in computer forensics technology — like the systems recently installed at Deloitte & Touche’s lab in downtown San Francisco — are changing discovery as we know it. Documents that were once thought to have disappeared via the delete key or trash box now have the very real possibility of ending up as admissible evidence. “If someone deleted it and tried to cover their tracks and reformatted their computer, we could get it back,” said Joe Anastasi, managing partner of Deloitte & Touche’s Northern California solutions and dispute consulting practice. “Unless they destroyed it with a drill, we could probably get it back.” The fiercely invasive technology, with its ability to dig up just about anything on a hard drive, may be unnerving to some. But to an attorney investigating someone who may be leaking trade secrets, the new tools at the disposal of Deloitte & Touche’s investigators in San Francisco may be able to turn whole cases around. “The uses it can be put to are scary, the way tapping probably was 30 years ago,” said Emmett Stanton, a litigation partner at Fenwick & West who has used Deloitte & Touche for computer investigation in the past. “But does it scare me that evidence that used to be destroyed is now available? No.” Using technology like SilentRunner, just released by the defense contractor Raytheon Co., Deloitte & Touche’s San Francisco investigative team can now put back together documents fragmented into bits and pieces. They can also mine through millions of pieces of e-mail to find the ones important for a case and monitor in real time a document’s movement on a network to see if anyone’s leaking company secrets. The new technology further enables investigators to trace the identity of the writer of an otherwise anonymously typed letter by comparing it with other documents typed by a known author. Anastasi says he can determine a letter’s real author beyond 99 percent accuracy. He even speculates that his team can retrieve deleted voice mails, because they’re mostly saved in a digital format. And the ones saved on an analog system could potentially be converted to digital and then searched by the team in San Francisco. “You and I might think that when we delete an e-mail it’s the same as crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it away in the trash and then having a truck take it to the dump never to be seen again,” Stanton said. “But for things in electronic or digital format, that simply isn’t true.”

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