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Deleting Files is a Crime?

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the what-is-this-privacy-you-speak-of? dept.

510

cemaco writes "A former employee of International Airport Centers, who is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with them, returned his company laptop as required. Hoping to find incriminating evidence, I.A.C. attempted to retrieve deleted information from the laptop in question with no success. This employee had beaten them to the punch. He had used 'secure delete' software, in order to make sure nothing could be recovered. He is now being charged with a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act."

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Deleting Files is a Crime? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895140)

Of course it is. Wasn't this law passed when Gmail went public? Why if google could get its way, you wouldn't delete shi.. oh wait... :)

Two-way crime (5, Insightful)

Too many errors, bai (815931) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895141)

So if he has the files, he's a criminal. But if he doesn't have the files, he's also a criminal? How is deliberate obstruction determined in a case like this?

Re:Two-way crime (5, Interesting)

Kitanis (927281) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895164)

If a smart lawyer would take the case.. it could be overturned on appeal.. How can you be charged when there is no evidence to hold you to that charge? The Judges are declaring a clean up of files as damage? Damage to what? the laptop was returned without the normal file associations that usually taints a origional install of the operating system. I tell you.. the more I see the law work.. the more i wonder....

Re:Two-way crime (4, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895444)

He should have kept the laptop.

They would have argued that they need it to search for evidence against him.

Then he could have been able to argue "You can't have it - returning it to you would be self-incrimination."

Or he could have just removed the hard disk and paid them $100 for a replacement hard disk, or better yet: "gee, it died a few days ago, and I replaced it. BTW, here's the invoice. Please reimburse me".

Lesson - posession is still 9/10 of the law.

Re:Two-way crime (1)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895175)

Is it a law or a company policy issue? If it is a company policy issue, then maybe it was a tort. It is sort of like, parking in a handicapped spot is a crime, and violates the law. Parking in "stork" parking (those spots reserved for new mothers and preggos) is a violation of a policy.

Re:Two-way crime (1, Offtopic)

dekemoose (699264) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895235)

A chocolate tort would be nice, with a good cup of coffee, hmmmm....

Re:Two-way crime (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895240)

'preggos' - probably the most offensive and degrading word out there.

Re:Two-way crime (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895294)

Um- what about Cunt?
As in "Fuck you, you fucking hoe-bag cunt!!!

Re:Two-way crime (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895381)

Well yeah, that is pretty offensive too.

Re:Two-way crime (5, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895191)

So if he has the files, he's a criminal. But if he doesn't have the files, he's also a criminal? How is deliberate obstruction determined in a case like this?

Seems to me what is lacking here is IAC arguing before the court what specific contents should be on the computer which were destroyed, without authorisation, thus doing harm to the company.

Lord knows, everywhere I've worked, when I left I was expected to clean out my desk, not have a bunch of business analysts doing it to be sure I didn't throw anything useful away. Gosh. To think the massive amount of crap which would litter my computer and desk if I didn't dispose of things is daunting. I must be trusted to use good sense and not throw valuable stuff away, huh?

Re:Two-way crime (2, Insightful)

bigboss1234 (924774) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895451)

It all depends on timing and rules. He is in trouble if he deleted the file after he realise there is an investigation, or if there is a rule against deleting that type of file, or there is a regulation against using a "secured delete" software.

Re:Two-way crime (5, Insightful)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895473)

Seems to me what is lacking here is IAC arguing before the court what specific contents should be on the computer which were destroyed, without authorisation, thus doing harm to the company.

Exactly! The 7th Circuit has merely stated that the action could be a violation of the act--something to be determined at a trial. They haven't convicted anybody or even claimed that a law was broken, only that the alleged act is conceivably a violation.

Re:Two-way crime (2, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895350)

How is deliberate obstruction determined in a case like this?

Oh, that's easy enough. It doesn't enter into it at all.

KFG

Re:Two-way crime (1)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895404)

From TFA,

"Citrin's breach of his duty of loyalty terminated his agency relationship (more precisely, terminated any rights he might have claimed as IAC's agent--he could not by unilaterally terminating any duties he owed his principal gain an advantage!) and with it his authority to access the laptop, because the only basis of his authority had been that relationship..."

They're trying to argue that when Citrin resigned and went into business for himself, he violated his employment contract (probably a non-compete clause) and therefore was no longer an authorized user.

After a careful reading (3, Insightful)

Baseball_Fan (959550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895481)

So if he has the files, he's a criminal. But if he doesn't have the files, he's also a criminal? How is deliberate obstruction determined in a case like this?

Or the third possibility is he does not delete the files, and there are no files which shows he violated his work contract. The crime was in deleting the files. There could not be a crime in leaving the files there.

What most likely happened was he used his employers laptop in starting his own buisness. Who knows how he did this, maybe he used trade secrets or something else. When he decided to quit, he wanted to remove the evidence of his actions, so he removed everything from the laptop.

The company has a right to issue the laptop and require it is returned in the same condition, and that would include the software and data on the laptop.

Is the laptop's data the property of the employer? That is the question. If the laptop is the property of the employer, and the employer has a right to the data on the laptop, then what this guy did is the same thing as if he deleted records from a PC in his cubicle. Or is it different because he can take a laptop out of the office?

My gut reaction is to want more privacy. But maybe that is not possible anymore. Heck, the government demanded search records from Yahoo, MSN, and Google a few months ago so they could see who was searching for prohibited porn and terrorism. Google was the only one who did not provide the data, but not because they wanted to protect their users privacy, but because they did not want other companies to see their data.

What Rights? (2, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895143)


Adolf Hitler, when challenged by some people, said "I don't need you, I have your children."

Effectively one could say the same thing about those in government who have usurped the rights of the people since the ink dried on the Constitution and Bill of Rights. "I don't need you, I have the laws." Worst of all, they have a lot of the children too, because the children don't care or will vigorously defend the right of the government to deny them their very own rights.

Ideally, a judge would, like the article's author, take one look at the charges and say, "whaaaaat?" just before throwing the whole silly thing out. Now three loops have decided returning the drive clean is a crime, unanimously.

Ok, there's the thought that work on the laptop would be of value (a project of some sort or list of contacts and estimates valueable to the next to occupy the position) to the employer and the employee violated some work ethic, by destroying company property, but that's now how it reads. More likely the computer would only contain things meaningful to the employee in the context of producting the actual end work.

Next there will probably be some poor person sued for throwing out old yellowed paper-work, which had been in the bottom drawer of a desk for 30 years, when retiring.

Does this mean each person must approach the company gestapo for approval to destroy or discard anything?

A laughable concept. IAC are a bully and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit are out of their league regarding workplaces and technology.

oy, he erased 'is name from the company directory! someone could get seriously lost looking for a former employee's cubicle and come to great harm! put 'im in irons!

Re:What Rights? (1)

sparckzero (960394) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895213)

Fair point. Although you have to beg the question, why would the employee use so called "secure delete" software if he had nothing to hide? I know it's a bit of a crappy argument, although it is something to consider.

Re:What Rights? (2, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895282)

Fair point. Although you have to beg the question, why would the employee use so called "secure delete" software if he had nothing to hide? I know it's a bit of a crappy argument, although it is something to consider.

Apparently on that technical ground the court made, incredibly, a unanimous decision. I find that preposterous and worrying.

he's driving the speed limit, but he was probably speeding before he slowed down to it, let's write him a ticket

Re:What Rights? (2, Insightful)

sparckzero (960394) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895372)

Apparently on that technical ground the court made, incredibly, a unanimous decision. I find that preposterous and worrying.

You're right, that's damned worrying. I can see why they might decide that though. That doesn't make it right. You would have thought that at least one person would decide against it.

he's driving the speed limit, but he was probably speeding before he slowed down to it, let's write him a ticket

Good analogy. For the record, I always stick to the limit ;)

Re:What Rights? (2, Insightful)

Crispy Critters (226798) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895512)

"Apparently on that technical ground the court made, incredibly, a unanimous decision. I find that preposterous and worrying."

The most important thing to notice here is that this was not a final judgment. This was a ruling regarding an appeal to the case being dismissed. A case is only dismissed in this way if the plaintiff has no case even assuming that every disputed fact is in his favor. Dismissing the case is like saying, "You're so wrong, that even if you were right, you'd still be wrong." The ruling here just lets the case go forward. The guy could still be totally exonerated in the end.

Re:What Rights? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895379)

I know it's pedantry to point this out, but when it comes to debate we need specific terms to have specific meanings; "begs the question" does not mean "raises the question."

Re:What Rights? (1)

moonbender (547943) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895501)

Yes, it does. Didn't you get the memo?

The judges are flat out wrong (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895365)

A computer provided to an employee to do their work is a tool and nothing more.

If the company did not have a backup policy for the laptop, they did not take reasonable precautions to secure and protect their data.

Whether by secure erasure, hard-drive crash, truck-runneth-over, or otherwise, they put all their risk in one device.

Too bad, so sad. You lost your only copy.

For the courts to presume that such a loss constitutes an actual crime is ludicrous. Thank God I'm not an American having to put up with the nonsense coming out of their courts lately.

Inevitable (1)

Dukeofshadows (607689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895441)

The technologies are a decade old, but the lawmakers in power are from a generation when computers meant punch cards and files were something found only in cabinets. Should we really be so surprised then when the law can't catch up with the technology?

Re:What Rights? (1)

lysse (516445) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895448)

Speaking of the Constitution, the whole reason the company in question was trying to undelete files from his laptop in the first place was because they wanted to find some evidence of his breaking a contract.

Surely, in the spirit of the 5th Amendment, he should have every right to securely delete files he thought might incriminate him? And doesn't the invocation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act turn this into a criminal case, where the 5th Amendment applies directly?

alarmist (5, Insightful)

RelliK (4466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895452)

Once again, slashdot summary is wrong and you didn't read the article.

Ideally, a judge would, like the article's author, take one look at the charges and say, "whaaaaat?" just before throwing the whole silly thing out. Now three loops have decided returning the drive clean is a crime, unanimously.

RTFA. That's exactly what the judge did. The company appealled the decision, and the appeals court sent it back to the judge saying: no, you can't throw this out. The company might be right. You need to hold a trial to figure it out.

Having read the article, I agree. The issue is not so clear-cut that it should be dismissed out of hand: it deserves its day in court. The guy may have deleted incriminating information (which is a crime, see Enron paper shredders). He may also have been propping up his business at company's expense (i.e. using whatever data he acquired while making sure the company doesn't get a hold of it). That's for the judge to decide, and that's exactly what the appeals court said should happen.

Oh and, btw:

Adolf Hitler

you lose.

Re:What Rights? (3, Insightful)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895467)

Ideally, a judge would, like the article's author, take one look at the charges and say, "whaaaaat?" just before throwing the whole silly thing out. Now three loops have decided returning the drive clean is a crime, unanimously.

I urge you to consider the possibility that all the judges who have thus far ruled that it can be a criminal act to destroy information that does not belong to you may, in fact, not be "out of their league" regarding workplaces and technology, and even may understand the issues better than either you or Mr. McCullagh.

All I have to say. (0, Offtopic)

dsraistlin (901406) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895148)

WTF?!?!?

Re:All I have to say. (1)

JordanL (886154) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895187)

Now someone needs to get a picture of the 7th circuit and make one of those talk bubbles: "All your base are belong to us."

Whoa! (5, Funny)

LandownEyes (838725) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895155)

"The term "damage" means any impairment to the integrity or availability of data, a program, a system, or information;" Whoa, better not install windows. But really, after I close the lid on my laptop it takes a few seconds for the system to come back to life when I open it, technically, the availability of data is impaired in those few seconds (well 30 if it's a compaq). Oh, whoa again! So if I'm watching a DVD and my brother steps in front of the screen and I can't see for a second, then my access to the "data" is "impaired". Huzzah! We're all going to jail! BONG!

Re:Whoa! (5, Informative)

infolation (840436) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895255)

It's not an uncommon data-deletion policy to encrypt all archived data/backups, then to later delete the corresponding key to any data that needs to be securely wiped. It would be pretty easy to end up in the same situation as this employee if your data was archived in this way and you decided to delete your keys when you left your job.

Kind of crazy.... (1)

madnuke (948229) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895162)

Though I do understand the need to investigate say if something was illegal or criminal on the laptop but the guy saved the company a bit of money by erasing the data. To go to a data secure eraser company they would charge a fortune for the process involved. Though to go to the extent of using such methods to delete the data makes me wonder if he was hideing something.

Re:Kind of crazy.... (5, Interesting)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895198)

If this "secure eraser" is so awesome, then what trace was there that this "secure eraser" had been used? If someone hauls me in for a crime and my computer has no evidence, does that mean I must have used a "secure eraser" on it?

So then if I have nothing to hide, am I now hiding something?

Re:Kind of crazy.... (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895403)

If all the unallocated sectors and slack space contain a repeating random pattern instead of fragments of data then it's pretty clear that a secure erase utility went over the disk.

Even simpler, if you run an undelete program and nothing at all happens, that's very strong evidence that someone made metadata unrecoverable.

Simpler yet, if Evidence Eliminator is installed and got used the day after the subpoena got served, well...

Re:Kind of crazy.... (1)

acherrington (465776) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895410)

Because good erasers zero out the bits at the end. That way there is no way to recover it... pseudo data is generated off an algorithm... which in theorey can be broken.

Pseudo random data 7 times over... then zero it out.

Re:Kind of crazy.... (1)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895442)

"If this "secure eraser" is so awesome, then what trace was there that this "secure eraser" had been used?"

I didn't RTFA (O RLY?) but....since this was a company laptop, they might have known he had certain files on there as part of his work, and now they are not there and they can find no trace of them. Of course I'm just pulling that out of nowhere...but hey, why not.

Wtf ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895210)

Though to go to the extent of using such methods to delete the data makes me wonder if he was hideing something.

And you're on slashdot ? Better not install any GPG, PGP or any other encryption tool : you could have something to hide !

Now go sit in a corner, don't come back until you learned something.

Re:Kind of crazy.... (2, Insightful)

Darthmalt (775250) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895225)

Possibly. But if he used it as a personal laptop it might have credit card info from online purchases, porn in the internet history, or some music he ripped off a cd to listen to while he was working or traveling. None of that is illegal but all of it is stuff you wouldnt want an employer / ex employer to find.

Re:Kind of crazy.... (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895249)

Citrin points out that his employment contract authorized him to "return or destroy" data in the laptop when he ceased being employed by IAC (emphasis added). But it is unlikely, to say the least, that the provision was intended to authorize him to destroy data that he knew the company had no duplicates of and would have wanted to have--if only to nail Citrin for misconduct. The purpose of the provision may have been to avoid overloading the company with returned data of no further value, which the employee should simply have deleted.
Basically, the Courts had to sit around and determine the intent/meaning of that clause.

One Court agreed with the guy, the Appeals Court didn't. Seems to me like he had something to hide, so he hid it. Now he's being sued for that.

Re:Kind of crazy.... (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895415)

Seems to me like he had something to hide, so he hid it.

Can I borrow your mind-reading machine when you're done with it?

Yep, that's illegal. (1)

rob_squared (821479) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895174)

Just like throwing contraband out of a moving car. Thing is, its a little trickier than that, because...you don't know what was there to delete in the first place.

The thing that's making them jump to conclusions is the fact that its one of those programs that rewrites random data many times so that its unrecoverable. Otherwise, the default for windows is for the file system to relist the space as free, without actually deleting it. The file only becomes unrecoverable on the rewrite.

Re:Yep, that's illegal. (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895214)

Just like throwing contraband out of a moving car. Thing is, its a little trickier than that, because...you don't know what was there to delete in the first place.

Yeah. Where's the subpeona, court order or warrant? I didn't know companies now had that power.

Re:Yep, that's illegal. (2, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895517)

I didn't know companies now had that power.

      Welcome to the New World Order, mein freund.

Re:Yep, that's illegal. (1)

radarsat1 (786772) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895346)

Just like throwing contraband out of a moving car. Wait a minute. IS throwing contraband out of a moving car illegal? You're not technically caught yet, so once they do catch you, if you don't have contraband on you, you are scott free, unless a policeman can testify to say, "I saw him throw it out the window", thereby making a link between you and the contraband. And if that's the case, do you get a higher penalty if you tried to throw it away? I'm not being sarcastic, I'm actually asking. Does anyone know? (I'd be interested in answers concern US and Canadian law, if anyone knows..)

Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895479)

If for nothing else, littering is illegal. The mere act of throwing something out of car is probable cause for the police to pwn j00 royally. Beyond that, just because one isn't caught and convicted doesn't mean the act wasn't illegal in the first place. Lots of rapists and murderers never get caught, what they did was still illegal.

I think you win dumb post of the day.

Re:Yep, that's illegal. (1)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895490)

Yes, it is a crime to throw contraband from your vehicle to avoid getting caught with it. This is a pretty common tactic actually -- police set up a roadblock to check driver's licenses (or whatever), but what they are really doing is looking for anyone who either does something to avoid going to the roadblock, or throws something from their vehicle.

It's a *company* laptop... (2, Informative)

the_skywise (189793) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895179)

It's the *company's* information. Just as if you took out your file folders and TPS reports before you quit work and burned them, it's a violation of law.

Re:It's a *company* laptop... (3, Insightful)

Chas (5144) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895231)

Yes and no.

If the company had a set of policies in place, and had informed the employees about them, that ALL data that was put onto the system became the property of the company. Or if there was a clause on there about not putting personal data or programs on there.

In this case, they would pretty much need to PROVE that anything he deleted was possibly incriminating. Which, at this point, would be damn near impossible.

Re:It's a *company* laptop... (1)

Crispy Critters (226798) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895363)

I am embarrased to admit it, but I RTFA.

You are missing a key fact. He allegedly breached his employment agreement. If true, he at that moment became an ex-employee with no rights (or obligations) to do anything with the laptop. Company policy would be relevant if he had performed his actions while he was an employee. However, if he was no longer an employee, he had no right to decide if any file should be deleted or not.

Re:It's a *company* laptop... (1)

Chas (5144) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895391)

Yes, but when was the moment he became an ex-employee? When he decided to go into business himself? Or when he returned the laptop?

Also, if employee agreements bind the employee, even after termination of employement, they bind the employer as well.

Re:It's a *company* laptop... (2, Informative)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895272)

RTFA - "Citrin pointed out that his employment contract permitted him to "destroy" data in the laptop when he left the company. But the 7th Circuit didn't buy it"

Re:It's a *company* laptop... (3, Insightful)

Bagheera (71311) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895301)

Depends. It's certainly the company's laptop, but the NON-work-related data may not be theirs. Every company I've worked in that allowed the use of a laptop had allowances for "limited personal use" in their acceptible use policies. That meant that it was cool for me to use the laptop to check my webmail accounts during lunch, etc. That information was mine, not theirs. It was also assumed reasonable for me to delete my personal data that was left on the system.

Operative word being "Reasonable."

It would all depend on whether his company's acceptible use policy had an allowance for limited personal use or not. If they did say it was OK to use it for personal use, they had no legal grounds upon which to try and recover HIS personal (not work related) data since it was HIS.

Your analogy implies that EVERYTHING in a workspace is company property, when in most cases it's not. Having personal effects in my office, and removing them when I leave the employer, is no different form having some personal data on a computer.

Re:It's a *company* laptop... (1)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895315)

So... clearing your browser cache should be penalized? Dumping notes you don't need? Every scratch excel spreadsheet must be saved?

What you're basically asking for is a law stating that every piece of info on any machine owned by a corporation must be archived indefinitely. We're approaching a time where this will be technically feasible, but would you really want to place that burden on every mom&pop shop operating in the US?

The alternative would be to ban any non-business use of company machines... and that's just not an option for businesses that require any amount of travel or would like their employees to work more than 8 hours a day.

Was it classified as evidence? (4, Insightful)

radarsat1 (786772) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895181)

If the laptop was classified as evidence in the case, chances are it wouldn't be in his possession. If it wasn't, then he didn't commit a crime.

On the other hand, if a document was issued classifying the harddrive as evidence before he deleted the contents of the drive, he did commit a crime.

Ideally, it should be as simple as that.

Re:Was it classified as evidence? (5, Insightful)

Chas (5144) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895317)

From reading the article, it looks like there wasn't anything resembling an investigation under way. Merely a guy who was leaving the company to pursue another job (albeit a competitive one). He returned the laptop, as he pretty much was required to do.

THEN they went looking for dirt on him.

That order right there is what's important. If the guy had been informed of an investigation, and had then returned the laptop, wiped, he could be guilty of destroying evidence.

But he returned the laptop, then an investigation was begun.

Sorry, no investigation first, no crime.

Granted, this COULD be an internal policy issue for the company too. However, they're not suing him for violating company policy. They're suing him under "hacking" charges. Which pretty much says that there was no policy in place regarding the data on the laptop. Moreover, the guy's employment contract, apparently, SPECIFICALLY allowed him the option of destroying data on the machine.

In agreeing to that, the company pretty much just abrogated ownership of the data.

This guy's in for a really long court battle. But, eventually, he's going to be acquitted.

Re:Was it classified as evidence? (1)

radarsat1 (786772) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895369)

I agree. Looking at it that way... the company has no case here.

Re:Was it classified as evidence? (1)

Transcendent (204992) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895395)

It should be that simple, but it's not. Because it was the "company's" data, then it becomes fuzzy.

Say I work at as an engineer (which I do). Now if I get canned or get PO'd at my employeers, and decide to delete the work that I was working on, then I should be in big trouble. Yes, my company makes backups every day of the entire workspace, but if I have my own laptop with lots of work on it without a proper backup, then yes, trouble ensues.

I don't think he should be punished much for deleting the data. The terms of agreement by IT at his company did state that he could return or destroy the data (there's probably more to it than that, but lets just assume that's it), but instead they should have just said "return" and let managers/supervisors/someone else decide what to keep. And yes, they probably do have a clause about not storing personal data on the machine, which would blow his argument "but it was my documents!".

He should be in much more trouble for violating his contract, and get some sort of slap on the wrist or fine for deleting company data, but that's probably it. Well, I'm no lawyer, but I guess if enron can shred their documents then he should be able to delete his data?

Frivolous law suits. (5, Interesting)

keilinw (663210) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895182)

Interestingly, it appears to me that the ex-employee did the right thing.

1.)He is protecting the privacy of whoever's data was on the computer.
2.)He is ensuring that the computer is free from viruses, worms, spy ware, etc (assuming he performed a total wipe).

If the company wanted evidence against their employee then they should have attained it before accusing him. To do so in reverse order, as they did, only allows the employee to cover his tracks. If anything I am disappointed in the way that the company handled their business and at the very minimum reflects on the "quality of employees" that they hire.

One more note: doesn't this sort of thing fall under the category of "entrapment."

Argggg, I'm getting frustrated.... and I don't know if I should blame stupidity or the lawyers... oh wait... aren't they the same?

Matthew Wong
http://www.themindofmatthew.com/ [slashdot.org] ">http://www.themi ndofmatthew.com

Wrong law (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895184)

Destruction of evidence is a crime. Why do they need another law specifically for computers?

Re:Wrong law (2, Informative)

Chas (5144) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895370)

Was there a legal investigation going on when the employee returned the laptop?

No.

He quit and returned the item.

THEN they began digging for dirt.

That makes all the difference in the world.

Re:Wrong law (2, Insightful)

Core-Dump (148342) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895385)

And who classifies it as "evidence" it could also be so home made movie's of him doing his wife that he didn't want to get out at his ex-office

Some people don't get it (1, Insightful)

OYAHHH (322809) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895185)

When you work somewhere what you obtain from that employer belongs to the employer until the employer relinquishes ownership to you.

Would this have even been posted on /. if the guy had set fire to the corporate tower as he walked out the door. I think not. But, what he did was equally malicious.

Re:Some people don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895228)

Yeah. I mean, sure, they own your temp files, swap files, and print buffers and all that. I call BULLSHIT. If this guy returned his laptop in full functioning order. It is not his problem for deleting the files, it is on them to recover the data.

What's "to get"??? (2, Insightful)

Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895286)

Unless the company's written policy was "you cannot delete files from this laptop we've given you" then I can't see where there is a problem. If they really needed those files, they should have taken possession of the laptop BEFORE the fit hit the shan rather than cry foul after the fact.

Re:Some people don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895351)

I don't know what you have been smoking, but please keep it to yourself.

How on earth would arsonic acts have ANYTHING REMOTELY SIMILAR to that of clearing up disk space? But I assume you also believe in Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Intelligent Design, and Intellectual Property.

You are making an assumption that data that was wiped, was somehow valuable property of the company, given to the employee. I doubt that. Chances are it's something guy collected, worked on; and then wanted to wipe out just in case it had some incriminating evidence. Took the fifth, so to speak.

Re:Some people don't get it (4, Informative)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895352)

I read most of -- maybe 95% -- of the original article, but I did NOT read the court papers nor try to look for them.

So, this is on the assumption that he SELECTIVELY deleted files and didn't delete day-to-day financials, IT-installed AV software, IT-installed firewall and logger software..

But, since he used a secure delete:

-- HOW does IAC know WHAT he deleted?

-- WHY be such specious pieces of shit and sue him for something they cannot prove/trying to prove the unknowable?

If he once had a company proposal, but then had his own ideas and prototyped them, but left the company-bound original in place then the stuff he made for himself is HIS HIS HIS! Not the company's "just because he put it there".

If he put a pic of his family, they'd deleted it without a second thought. But, because it may be or they FEEL it's in their "sphere of interest", of course they'll want a copy. But, too bad. If they had a plan to expand and didn't include him, and liked his ideas but said, "See ya, we don't need ya", and he felt they we're using HIS ideas (which, if he's smart, can be reconstructed by any MBA observing the business potential, studying the companies and entities involved, and using some wit and imagination...), then if they didn't have them in their meetings minutes, they're stupid.

Now, IF he produced the stuff on COMPANY time FOR the company and it was stuff they TOLD him to make as an in-process and end-product set of information, then he shouldn't have deleted it. But, if he, for instance, installed (say, with their permission) his own licensed software and produced data for them, but say, deleted their data, then they have NO damn business expecting to keep "evidence of his Corel (or whatever) copy". He could have had Maya, Alias, ACAD, who knows. And, if they had ACAD, but he drew floorplans of an office he intends to have fitted out, THAT, TOO is none of their goddam business.

Sour grapes. Sometimes, some COMPANIES just don't get it. Same goes for those companies whic hire programmers and and then "compensate" them to intentionally embed, encrypt and then claim as "their own intellectual property" some GPL/GNU software they goddam didn't create, and then adamantly pass off and defend as their own and expect smarter employees to sign NDAs and Non-Competes over stuff the company didn't create.

I hope that guy is smart, has a smart lawyer and that he actually IS in the right. But, unless we actually see the court transcripts, get our own forensics team on the hard drive (assuming the company didn't distrub the 1s and 0s any more than the ex-employee did), then it's going to be hard for any geek/nerd on this site to say much of anything meaningful without laying out some reasonable scenarios. I guess....

Sometimes, It Should Be a Crime (1)

Baricom (763970) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895215)

Yes, sometimes deleting files should be a crime. If you're the only person with control of an important document owned by your company, and you intentionally delete the file knowing this, you should be held liable for the damage it causes. This is especially true if your company has a policy against doing this.

That said, in TFA, it says the contract specifically said that he was to return or destroy confidential data, so the above argument doesn't seem to apply in this case.

Of course, IANAL, and lawyers can make anything "apply" when they want to.

Something related in San Diego (1)

FireballX301 (766274) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895218)

Here [signonsandiego.com]

If you can't be bothered to read that link, basically, San Diego's embroiled in a financial crisis that's being investigated by the FBI, and the recently-resigned city manager had a few thousand emails erased immediately after he stepped down which may POSSIBLY incriminate him or others in the muni government.

Of course, in that instance the email deletion is probably straight obstruction of justice, while this one is not involving any actual 'crime' other than possible breach of contract. But I figured it'd be food for thought.

Re:Something related in San Diego (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895407)

It is only obstruction of justice if you do it AFTER being notified that the emails may potentially be supoened in a court case. Prior to any such notification, it is merely in accordance or not in accordance with the organization's document retention policy.

Same thing applies to the laptop; it is only obstruction if the ex-employee had reason to beleive the company needed what was on the laptop for a court case.

Moral of the story: buy a replacement drive for any computer your company gives you. Use your drive for the length of employment, then reinstall the original drive (in pristine condition) before you turn the machine back in. In which case, you haven't "destoyed" anything belonging to the company; you've merely erased files on your own personal hard drive...

And the proof? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895221)

And how will they prove that anything was erased?

Re:And the proof? (1)

jgarry (126205) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895466)

>And how will they prove that anything was erased?

They logged the number of emails periodically. The number went from 8K to 0 the day after he left...

Where I work... (2, Insightful)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895243)


We are required to wipe the drives when we leave with something like a hardware 3 pass low level uniquely random sequencer based on radioactive decay.

I got a little overboard there. I do not work in a secure environment. I believe this is for our privacy when we leave, or maybe it has to do with security for financial information, or maybe it has no reason, but it is a policy.

This guy got raped by the system before the real deal. Gotta love our freedoms!

stupid (1)

Wolfier (94144) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895248)

If you want to conduct your business on someone else's laptop:

1. Boot using a Linux Live CD
2. Use a USB Key drive

If it does not leave any trace in the first place, you'll not need to erase anything.

Well... (1)

GmAz (916505) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895258)

Was he ordered to give back the laptop after he was involved legally with them, or before? If its after, then he could be charged with obstruction of justice or tampering with evidence. Anywho, how do they know he used a secure delete software unless the moron left the software installed on the system after he deleted the files.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895290)

No he can't. Not unless the court ordered him to turn the laptop in. Just because the company required him to give them back their property, namely the laptop, does not mean he interfered with what the court required of him. This is demonstrated in the fact that he isn't being charged with obstruction of justice...

Re:Well... (1)

Mister White (892068) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895476)

Unless he securely deleted the secure delete software, which I doubt, it's pretty obvious.

Dilemma (1)

Device666 (901563) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895259)

Well, I always knew there was something fishy with miucrosofts recycle bin...

The company is at fault (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895266)

The security and integrity of the data cannot be left to an end user.

Why is there no backup or sync up? I find the company guilty. The simple way out of this is for the ex employee to say I was only intereted in deleting any personal data that may or may not have been on the computer and that, unless his job WAS IT, it is not his repsonsibility to defend the data.

The company has a vested interest in the data, if they did not understand that then hopefully they do now.

sorry, but he did nothing wrong that can prove him guilty of any crime if this was simply a wipe of "his" laptop.

Now if this was data on a server, then yes, he is guilty

Deleting is deleting, period...judge should get it (5, Interesting)

JoeShmoe (90109) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895279)

I can't find it now, but a federal court judge once made the comment that people need the ability to delete files and have courts recognize them as "destroyed". Just because computer forensics has a much greater chance of success shouldn't mean that people can't deliberately disassociate themselves from material. This is core to the right against self incrimination.

Consider what might happen if I sent you a child porn image. You, offended, delete the image immediately and report me to the FBI. Now what if, unable to find me, the FBI came to your door, confiscated your laptop with a warrant (after all, you reported seeing the file, therefore you must have it) and used an undelete program to recover it. Are you now guilty of the crime of possession of child pornography? Yes, you are. At least, as far as the prosecutors are concerned.

It's never been tested legally to my knowledge, but the court MUST recognize that for someone to be charged over deleted evidence is akin to government agent pulling memories from your brain and using those memories to reconstitute matter in the same patter and then use it as evidence against you in a court of law.

This is Orwellian to the extreme, but it is quite possible that the raving "think of the children" lunatics out there will create just such a legal system. After all, they will argue, what stops kiddie porners from keeping their porn collections in the Recycle Bin? What about on a shadow drive with no FAT to link sectors to filenames? At what point does the work involved in recovery become high enough to consider something "gone"?

I'm glad to see this case, and I hope that the jurist in charge realizes that this is about a person's right to prevent their own thoughts and memories from being used against them in a court of law. After all, if the evidence went beyond the employee's person...there will be copies in e-mails, filed records, other computers. For someone to be able to go beyond the bounds of corporate communications into the person at the computer makes that employee's mind the company's property and not just his laptop.

-JoeShmoe
.

Re:Deleting is deleting, period...judge should get (1)

JoeShmoe (90109) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895331)

Er, I guess I missed the opening line that it was already decided 3-0 and for exactly the wrong reasons. I thought the rest was the prosecution argument.

Hopefully this gets appealed to the Supreme Court because file deletion, I belive, is going to be one of the key legal issues for future generations for the reasons I mentioned.

I wonder what these judges have in their own Recycle Bins at home.

-JoeShmoe
.

Re:Deleting is deleting, period...judge should get (2, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895439)

If what you're saying is true, I say we all get busy emailing our government representatives some choice kitty porn, then immediately reporting them to the FBI as being "in possesion" of unlawful pictures... would that help to get the laws changed?

Judges Knowledge of Computing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895283)

Shouldn't judges that decide on cases like this have an adequate understanding about the internet, hardware, software and in general computers before they decide upon ethical issues regarding these things? If judges knew more about this, then maybe they would realize that deleting information is different than throwing away a weapon.

Overhyped (1)

CaroKann (795685) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895302)

I think this story is over hyped. How is destroying data on the companies' laptop any different from destroying data on their database, or shredding documents?

Re:Overhyped (1)

anonymous_wombat (532191) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895384)

How is destroying data on the companies' laptop any different from destroying data on their database, or shredding documents?
If you don't know the answer to this, then you are obviously not a software engineer. Companies don't store their primary copy of important information on laptops.

Seems pretty straightforward. (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895311)

It depends on the intent. And courts are always dealing with the question of 'intent'.

If he did it, intending to cover up evidence of his violating a noncompete clause, yes, I could see it being a possible crime.

This isn't that much different than if he shredded paper files that detailed what he had been doing. If he did it to cover something up, it could be criminal.

See the famous 18 minute gap during the Nixon administration for example.

Destroy Files on a Constant Basis!!!! (2, Interesting)

acherrington (465776) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895322)

IANAL - But i used to work for a bunch... legally speaking you should install eraser [heidi.ie] and allow it to wipe nightly/weekly then this isn't an issue. If you do it on a regular schedule... your more likely to be legally covered. For example: You destroy a bunch of files before a warrant comes to you... you are busted, but if you destroy your files, one per night every night as normal upkeep you have the same nothing as before... but you arent in trouble cause its scheduled destruction. similar to insider trading: scheduled sale vs. impromptu trading. If you sell just to sell... and the stock takes a dive or jumps.... you could be liable for insider trading (assuming you have insider info). But if you sell a certain amount every month.... you cant be hurt in court no matter what jumps its doing. wipe that hard drive every night....OR do not store the contact info on their computer and you are fine just say you like paper records or a roledex.

The problem with this law (5, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895326)

From the article:
That law says whoever "knowingly causes damage without authorization" to a networked computer can be held civilly and criminally liable.
The 7th Circuit made two remarkable leaps. First, the judges said that deleting files from a laptop counts as "damage." Second, they ruled that Citrin's implicit "authorization" evaporated when he (again, allegedly) chose to go into business for himself and violate his employment contract.

The court argued that the worst damage you can cause to someone's computer is erase their personal data. Seems he deleted his client list (or something similar, the article wasn't very clear on that point), and the company wanted it. Unethical way to leave a company, and he probably deserves to be nailed.

The main thing that bothers me is, what if I delete some JPGs that were stored on the computer? I may have a good reason for not wanting anyone to see them, and since they were mine, there should be nothing wrong with deleting them. Will this law allow them to come after me? Seems like it will, and that's what's scary.

Self Incrimination (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895344)

He has a RIGHT to not incriminate himself. The company, while "fishing" for
some evidence, they did not say what evidence.

If he had even one personal email on the laptop, he had the RIGHT to not
incriminate himself.

The company was trying to violate his "rights" before the fact.

It is pure bullshit.

Only crime is getting caught (1, Troll)

PingXao (153057) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895348)

Everyone is a criminal now. Or soon will be. So the only real crime is getting caught. Unless you can buy yourself some American Justice. For the record, only public officials with lots of influence or mega-rich corporations can do that. SO start sucking up and pray they don't come after you. Because you're guilty.

Re:Only crime is getting caught (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895496)

Quit talking bullshit and stay on topic.

Read the fucking article.

The moron in the case deliberately violated his contact, set up his own business and when was busted - intentionally deleted incriminating and company files from the COMPANY owned laptop.

Quit making some fucking retarded statements.

Shredding Paper? (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895357)

So would the case be any different if this guy shredded a filing cabinet of paperwork?

I thought so, they'd sue the heck outta him.

I have no qualms with a corporate "no delete policy", I'm in the storage business and soon selling tape drives to back up all this 'undeletable data'.

Thank you and the ferrari dealership is now on speed dial.

You mean you guys DON'T use secure delete? (2, Insightful)

Titusdot Groan (468949) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895368)

Let me understand this -- you guys don't use secure delete on your laptops before returning them? Everybody techincal I know does a secure whipe before handing their laptops in -- and every IT guy expects it.

If you allow the employee to use the laptop for personal use (online banking eg.) then you have to expect them to take steps to protect themselves.

This is a bizarre ruling -- I expect some interesting repercussions.

it can be, but this seems wrong (2, Insightful)

idlake (850372) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895393)

Deleting files can have legal consequences: if it's prohibited by your contract, if it's data shared with others, or if the evidence has already been subpoenaed.

This decision seems wrong, however: preventing people from deleting files on laptops under their control was not what the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was intended for (note, in particular, that it makes reference to a networked computer). Whether the employee was allowed to files should be a matter purely of their employment contract and the stated corporate policies.

Re:it can be, but this seems wrong (2, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895457)

Deleting files can have legal consequences: if it's prohibited by your contract, if it's data shared with others, or if the evidence has already been subpoenaed.

      Next in the "Free" United States, a man will be convicted of murder because he was NOT in posession of the murder weapon...

      If he deleted the files, uhh, how do you know that they were there in the first place? A file called "$vidence.dat" that is full of nulls is pretty shaky evidence. "Yes your honour we are SURE that this file contained x-y-z sensitive information..."

Simple defense (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14895431)

Is it the company's policy that the notebook be returned in the condition that it recieved in? That would mean clean and ready for use. A lot of computer savy people would use a safe delete software as a matter of practise so there can't be any intent shown. Did they instruct the employee to not delete any files from the machine? If they didn't it's their fault for not telling them to return it in a condition with all files intact. If anyone has a concern about this keep a personal external hard drive that you store the information on so the machine will remain clean while you are using it. They'd need a court order to obtain your personal hard drive which you of coarse are now using on your home machine and you had to format it first. You should be required to provide back ups of business files when you leave a company but it seems like they are trolling for information. The law is pretty sketchy in this area and probably does need an update. Deleting the files might look suspicous but it also can just show an employee be responsible when they return a device.

*Yawn* Which part of ... (2, Interesting)

Pecisk (688001) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895454)

..."if you have no evidence against guy, you simply can't get guy punished" they don't understand?

How they will prove that he cleaned up needed information in first place? Fingerprints? Electronic analystics? Give me a break, it is simply NOT possible. It is very possible that employee did something very wrong (and in fact, we don't know much about that). What we know that before getting a order from judge to get back hard drive, employee discarded any information from it. He maybe breached job contract, he maybe overstepped some laws, but clearly company will have a hard time to prove that this guy is gulty in first crime. And if laptop was only evidence then I think it smells more like "pushing around the small guy" theme all over again, not serious wish to discover the truth.

Keyword: Networked (3, Funny)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895486)

That law says whoever "knowingly causes damage without authorization" to a networked computer can be held civilly and criminally liable.

Here's a simple defense then:

"I had unplugged the network cable at the time I deleted the files."

You can't claim damage to a networked computer if the computer wasn't networked.

The 5th Amendment (1)

Ingenium13 (162116) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895504)

Could he win this on grounds similar to pleading the 5th Amendment? He could argue that he deleted the files because they could be self-incrimination. However, since IANAL, I do not know if this would hold up in court.

He should have had an "accident" (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895508)

Possibly, if I read the report correctly, he was using his employer's computer to kick off his own business, which is hardly ethical and possibly illegal (IANAL).

Clearly, what he should have done was to have an accident with the laptop: it should have ended up under a wheel of his car, or his car was broken into and the laptop stolen.

Two Words (1)

oGMo (379) | more than 8 years ago | (#14895514)

Rubber Mallet.

Leaves no discernable marks. Perfect for percussive maintenance. Just a BOFH tidbit.

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