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

  • Want to do business in Russia? Be ready to hand over your source code

    World News CBC News
    Western technology companies, including Cisco, IBM and SAP, are acceding to demands by Moscow for access to closely guarded product security secrets, at a time when Russia has been accused of a growing number of cyberattacks on the West, a Reuters investigation has found. Source
  • Obama begins nostalgic vacation in Indonesia with his family

    World News CTV News
    BALI, Indonesia -- Former U.S. President Barack Obama and his family arrived Friday on the resort island of Bali to begin a vacation in Indonesia, where he lived for several years as a child, officials said. Source
  • Making a Murderer's Brendan Dassey should be retried or released, says appeals panel

    World News CBC News
    The confession of a Wisconsin inmate featured in the Netflix series Making a Murderer was improperly obtained and he should be retried or released from prison, a three-judge U.S. federal appeals panel ruled. Brendan Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 in photographer Teresa Halbach's death on Halloween two years earlier. Source
  • Asylum claimants cautious about new approach to their applications

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Franklin Njomo spent the early part of his life advocating for human rights in Cameroon, and fled to Canada to seek refugee status after being jailed and tortured as a result. But he still doesn't consider himself free. Source
  • Relatives of 12-year-old indigenous girl who killed herself casting no blame

    Canada News CTV News
    Relatives of an indigenous girl from northern Ontario who killed herself last week, apparently as part of a suicide pact, say they do not blame anyone. In a statement this week, the grandparents of Jenara Roundsky say everyone did their best to help her. Source
  • Ontario corrections staff reject 7.5% wage hike, other public servants accept

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ontario correctional workers have voted overwhelmingly to reject a government offer to extend their contracts by four years with 7.5 per cent in raises. Meanwhile, 27,000 other public servants represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union have accepted an offer with the same wage hike. Source
  • Ontario corrections staff reject proposed wage hike, other public servants accept

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Ontario correctional workers have voted overwhelmingly to reject a government offer to extend their contracts by four years with 7.5 per cent in raises. Meanwhile, 27,000 other public servants represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union have accepted an offer with the same wage hike. Source
  • Tour bus hits top of Paris tunnel; 4 injured, 1 seriously

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- Four people were injured, one seriously, when a double-decker tour bus that took a detour due to a major display of sporting events got stuck inside a tunnel under a Paris bridge Friday, police and the bus company said. Source
  • Tour bus hits top of Paris tunnel; 4 injured [Photos]

    World News Toronto Sun
    PARIS — Four people were injured, one seriously, when a double-decker tour bus that took a detour due to a major display of sporting events got stuck inside a tunnel under a Paris bridge Friday, police and the bus company said. Source
  • Ferguson settlement with Michael Brown's family is $1.5M, attorney says

    World News CBC News
    The insurance company for the city of Ferguson, Missouri, paid $1.5 million US to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Michael Brown's parents, the city attorney said Friday. Attorney Apollo Carey disclosed the amount in an email in response to an open records request. Source