Ghomeshi email evidence shows how 'digital debris' increasingly used in trials

VANCOUVER -- The unearthing of 13-year-old emails in an attempt to discredit a woman accusing Jian Ghomeshi of sexual assault underscores the growing importance of "digital debris" in criminal and civil trials, experts say.

See Full Article

Lawyers and technology experts say the Internet has allowed for extensive records to be kept of one's movements and comments unlike anything in the past, but most people still don't consider the potential permanence of their words when firing off a message.

The amount of electronic data, records and documents introduced in trials can be "overwhelming," said David Fraser, an Internet and privacy lawyer with McInnes Cooper.

"There's also a tendency for people to put in email messages things that would be relatively casual that they earlier would have picked up the phone to communicate," he said.

"Picking up the phone wouldn't have created a record, but as soon as (the recipient has) an email message and they're not inclined to delete it, all of a sudden you have a record."

Defence lawyer Marie Henein has grilled two female complainants on their correspondence with Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults. A third has yet to testify.

On Friday, Henein produced a racy email sent by Lucy DeCoutere mere hours after she alleges Ghomeshi choked and slapped her in 2003, as well as a handwritten letter sent a few days later in which DeCoutere wrote "I love your hands."

The "Trailer Park Boys" actress testified she didn't remember sending the email. She said firmly that the note -- as well as other warm and even romantic dispatches she sent to Ghomeshi -- didn't mean the alleged assault didn't take place.

Ghomeshi has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. In a 2014 Facebook post he acknowledged engaging in rough sex but said it was consensual.

While 13 years is a bit further back than most people's saved correspondence stretches, Fraser said it's increasingly common to hang on to emails forever, given that web-based clients like Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Hotmail have practically unlimited storage space.

"It's a whole lot easier to keep it than it is to make the effort to decide what to delete," he said.

Only a few lines of Ghomeshi's replies have been read out by the defence and the Crown has not indicated that it has digital dirt on the former CBC Radio host. It may not be too late for the Crown to seek a search warrant for Ghomeshi's emails, if it hasn't already, Fraser said.

He said it's common sense in 2016 for lawyers to ask themselves if there's a likelihood that there's relevant electronic evidence -- be it emails, text messages, social media posts, Yelp reviews or Foursquare check-ins.

"In our day-to-day lives we leave so much digital debris that some of that could be relevant in a criminal case or a civil trial."

An entire industry called e-discovery or digital forensics has sprung up to assist lawyers in cases where deeper online digging is needed.

Richard Morochove runs a company called Morochove & Associates that does computer forensics investigation. He said emails are the most common digital documents that he's asked to search for or scrutinize.

"It's usually quite simple. Usually, the email is saved by somebody somewhere," he said. "Sometimes, even when someone thinks they've deleted an email from their computer, it's not deleted.

"We have various forensic tools we can use to go in and un-delete emails, to be able to look at things that appear to be gone but are actually still there."

Ronald Cenfetelli, chair in management information systems at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, said many corporations keep back-ups of email data for years.

Many email clients require users to manually delete items from a "Trash" folder, and of course, there's nothing to stop a recipient from forwarding an email to five other people, he said.

"You can create a million perfect copies of an email that would be pretty cumbersome to do with a piece of paper," he said. "With emails, there can be ghosts or shadows that sort of reverberate out there."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Police: Attacker kills 1 woman with axe, injures 2nd in NYC

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Police say a woman was hacked to death and a second woman is being treated for stab wounds after a killer who may have used an axe attacked them inside a Brooklyn apartment. Source
  • 'Nothing for the needy': Notre-Dame not France's only problem, say protesters

    World News CBC News
    French yellow vest protesters set fires along a march route through Paris on Saturday to drive home a message to a government they see as out of touch with the problems of the poor — rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn't the only problem France needs to solve. Source
  • Up to 40 party-goers injured after back deck collapses during wedding bash in B.C.

    Canada News CTV News
    Dozens of party-goers were injured after a second-storey back deck abruptly collapsed during a wedding bash in Langley, B.C. Emergency crews were called to a home on 268th Street shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Friday evening. Source
  • Attackers raid family party, kill 13 in Mexico

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY -- Police in eastern Mexico say gunmen broke into a family party and opened fire, killing 13 people and wounding at least four others. The Veracruz state Public Security Department says seven men, five women and a child were killed in the Friday night attack at an events hall in the oil city of Minatitlan near the Gulf of Mexico. Source
  • One dead after flood waters in Quebec sweep away road

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- One person has died amid flooding in western Quebec, after rising river levels swept away part of a road in the Outaouais region overnight. Police confirmed the death in a tweet Saturday morning, posting a photo of a gaping hole along the road in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 km northwest of Ottawa. Source
  • Egypt votes on referendum extending el-Sissi's rule to 2030

    World News CTV News
    CAIRO -- Egyptians voted Saturday on constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in power until 2030 and broaden the military's role -- changes blasted by critics as another major step toward authoritarian rule. Source
  • Tourists, Easter worshippers lament closure of Notre Dame

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- Tourists, devout Catholics and others are looking on mournfully at Notre Dame Cathedral, regretting that they can't get inside the magnificent monument on this Easter weekend because of the damage caused by a violent fire. Source
  • Yellow vest anger mixes with Notre Dame mourning: Paris

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- French yellow vest protesters marched anew Saturday to remind the government that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn't the only problem the nation needs to solve. Security was extra-high in Paris as authorities braced for resurgent yellow vest anger, and Paris police said some 70 people were detained by mid-morning. Source
  • Yellow vest anger burns in France, fueled by Notre Dame fire

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- French yellow vest protesters set fires along a march route through Paris on Saturday to drive home their message to a government they see as out of touch with the problems of the poor: that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn't the only problem France needs to solve. Source
  • P.E.I Green Party candidate killed in accident days before election

    Canada News CTV News
    Prince Edward Island Green Party candidate Josh Underhay and his young son have been killed in a "tragic accident," according to a statement issued late Friday night by Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker. The statement does not provide any information about the accident, but asks that the privacy of Underhay's family be respected at this time. Source