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Friday, February 20, 2009

Computer Expert Can Find Mayor's Missing Missives

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2009 at 9:09 PM

A local expert in computer forensics thinks she could retrieve Mayor Nagin’s deleted emails.


“Based on the information I have right now, I think there’s a good chance they are retrievable,” says Johnette Hassell, owner of Electronic Evidence Retrieval, an area company specializing in computer forensics and electronic discovery, which refers to how electronic information is sought, located, secured and searched with the intent of using it as evidence in civil or criminal cases.


Hassell says she bases her opinion from reading the news reports regarding WWL-TV’s ongoing court battle with the Nagin Administration over the mayor’s emails and his 2008 appointment calendar that television reporter, Lee Zurik, requested from City Hall. She hypothesizes the emails were deleted all at once, instead of as ongoing process.


“But I don’t know whether that’s true, or not, “Hassells adds. “They really need a forensics person in there.”


Hassell says there a number of different options she could us, depending on the how buried the emails are, to find the missing data. First, Hassell would make a copy of the City Hall hard drive and take it back to her computer lab and begin running tests to find the missing information. Sometimes documents appear deleted to most computer users, but in reality, the computer is still storing them, and a forensic expert can easily unearth them.


“It’s just that they’re hiding them from the ordinary user,” Hassell says. “So we grab those in 30-40 minutes.” 


Other techniques for finding missing documents require more work and time.


Hassell says she can also sometimes tell if someone was trying deliberately to delete the messages and thwart efforts to locate the deleted data.


“We never know until we get in there,” Hassel says. She adds that her company is available to do the work.


As for limited storage capacity — the reason Nagin gave for why the emails were deleted —  Hassell says it’s a common problem for businesses and government agencies.


“But the rules require you to, whether it eats up disk space or not, to maintain and preserve documents,” Hassell says.



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