February 21, 1998
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EST (1800 GMT)
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- You pour your heart out to an e-mail
pal, hit "send" and delete all traces of the message from
your computer. That, you figure, will take care of any
"evidence" you'd like to keep from nosy busybodies, provided
your friend deletes your message once it's read.
To the delight of some prosecutors, e-mails can live forever.
Even if the e-mail is deleted from the originating and
receiving computers, the document can still remain on the
main computer, or file server, that relayed the message.
"It doesn't really get erased, it just appears to," said
Scott Gaidano, president of DriveSavers Data Recovery. "But
it's there and it can be gotten, in most cases relatively
E-mails can be a high-priority item on a prosecutor's
"Law enforcement people know that this is likely to be the
place where there are some of the warts, disclosures, some of
the admissions made, and so that's something that they seek
right away," said former federal prosecutor Joe Russoniello.
E-mail is a popular, easy way to communicate
Case in point: Consider how e-mails between former White
House intern Monica Lewinsky and her turncoat pal Linda Tripp
could bolster Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr's case against
Starr is investigating whether Clinton and Lewinsky had a
sexual relationship, and, if so, whether the president asked
her to lie about it.
Clinton denies any involvement with the former intern.
Lewinsky submitted an affidavit to Paula Jones' attorneys in
which she denied having a sexual relationship with the
president and denied that he asked her to lie. Jones is
suing the president for sexual harassment.
Enter Linda Tripp, who reportedly taped conversations with
Lewinsky in which the young woman discussed her relationship
with the president.
It was recently reported that Tripp turned over to Starr hard
copies of e-mails from Lewinsky in which Lewinsky described
some details of her relationship with Clinton.
If that's true, Starr could use the written documents to
discredit accounts given by Lewinsky and Clinton.
So what does all of this mean for you?
CNN asked computer experts to provide the "10 commandments"
of e-mail. They gave us two:
San Francisco Bureau Chief Greg Lefevre contributed to this
- Don't think your e-mail is private.
- Don't believe the delete key.