Yahoo has some ‘splaining to do. A judge in an appeal case for a drug trafficker recently ordered Yahoo to present a witness and provide documents explaining how the company recovers deleted emails. According to Yahoo’s policies, deleted emails are not recoverable.
The appeal will decide the fate of Russell Knaggs of Yorkshire, England. In 2009 Knaggs was the ringleader for a plan to import five tons of cocaine from South America. A dealer in Colombia and one in Europe would communicate with one another through an email account “firstname.lastname@example.org”. One would write a “draft” and the other would then read it and delete it from both the “draft” and “trash” folders. Knagg’s solicitor mentioned that the conspirators would sometimes simply remove the text in the draft with the backspace key instead of completely deleting the email.
This was done while Knaggs was serving sixteen years for another drug-crime sentence. Knaggs did not actually use the “email@example.com” account himself.
Yahoo created several “snapshots” of the email account in April 2010 and explained that the pieces of evidence offered in this case were copies created by the “autosave” feature. This feature supposedly saves data in case there is a connectivity loss.
Knagg's lawyers believe that the emails may have been collected via real-time interception or an NSA surveillance program. Yahoo argues that the request is a “fishing expedition” and “unreasonably intrusive.”
The defense requested a half-day deposition, documents related Yahoo's email and retention system design, a copy of the retention software source code, and instruction manuals for the equipment that was used to retrieve the emails. The judge has instead ordered Yahoo to release a more limited list of documents, and prepare a witness to talk about specific topics, relating only to the email account in question. Yahoo has until August 31st to produce a witness for the deposition and provide any supporting documents.