Regulatory and legal issues are forcing IT managers to create costly e-mail storage and archival systems as electronic documents replace paper as official business records. Users and analysts note that courts and regulators are increasingly pushing companies to produce stored e-mail documents on demand or face penalties. For example, allegations that Intel Corp. failed to properly archive potentially critical e-mail messages — some written by its top executives — could prove crucial in an antitrust lawsuit filed against it by rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in 2005. The company failed to produce e-mails for the court by March 2007, prompting Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD to charge that the chip maker was negligent in not saving or archiving the disputed documents. The Delaware federal court extended Intel’s deadline until August, noted a company spokesman. “We’re in the process of going through literally millions and millions of e-mails,” he said. The spokesman declined to reveal exactly what Intel is doing to retrieve the documents, or what may happen if they aren’t retrieved in full. Archived e-mail has also become a critical part of a class-action lawsuit that charges Best Buy Co. and Microsoft Corp. with signing up thousands of customers to Microsoft’s MSN online service — and eventually charging their credit cards — without permission. One lawyer representing Best Buy last month admitted to falsifying at least two e-mails that were handed over to the plaintiffs. The lawyer’s firm, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP in Minneapolis, has since voluntarily withdrawn from the case. Beth Terrell, a partner at Seattle-based Tousley Brain Stephens PLLC, which is co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said that Best Buy’s initial delay in delivering pertinent archived e-mails raised suspicion. “We had all this e-mail coming from Microsoft discussing basically the issues that are key to our case, and some of them were discussions with Best Buy,” she said. “We were getting virtually no electronic documents or e-mail from Best Buy. It seemed very suspicious to us.” Best Buy did not respond to a request for comment on the four-year-old case. Terrell said she is astonished that executives continue to use e-mail — which she called “a powerful [legal] tool” — as an unofficial means of communication.
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