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Electronic discovery (e-discovery) describes any process where electronic data is sought, secured, located, explored and retrieved with intented use as evidence in a civil or criminal case. Electronic discovery may be performed offline on an individual computer or in a computer network.
A court may use actual hacking for specific criminal data retrieval orders, which is considered legal. Total destruction of digital data is extremely difficult, especially if the data is distributed on a network. Hard disk data cannot be completely deleted and can be retrieved with sophisticated data recovery tools, even after a user has attempted to remove the data. This allows law enforcement to track down criminal evidence.
E-discovery is also know as eDiscovery.
Various individuals may be associated with an electronic discovery process, such as attorneys from both sides, IT managers, forensic specialists and records managers.
In an electronic discovery process, all types of data serve as evidence, including text, calendar files, images, websites, databases, audio files, spreadsheets, animation and computer programs. Email is a very useful source of evidence because people tend to be less careful when exchanging emails. A crime, such as digital child pornography, is just one example of how electronic discovery is helpful when presenting evidence for the prosecution.
Sometimes, innocent witnesses become involved in litigation if their electronic data is seized as evidence and used in the criminal trial of another person. In these instances, witnesses may feel that their privacy has been invaded.
A subset of electronic discovery is cyberforensics, which involves data seeking on hard drives.