eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Breaking News: News International to Suspend Deletion of Emails and Other Documents


According to The Independent, staff at Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers has been warned to stop deleting any documents that may be relevant to the current investigations, as a suspension of its usual policy about deletion of documents goes into effect.

Over the course of the 2011 investigation into illegal voicemail hacking by News International employees, there has been contention over the ongoing deletion of documents at the newspaper and its subsidiaries. But only during this past weekend did News International's parent company, News Corp, finally send an email to all of its employees instructing them to take measures preventing the deletion of documents that might be related to the investigation, including emails and other ESI.  Specifically, the email instructed employees to “Please suspend any automatic deletion or discarding of any documents, whether electronic or paper, including emails or drafts of documents… If you are uncertain whether a document is relevant… you should preserve it.”

Of course, the News Corp scandal has been not only significant eDiscovery news, but major world news as well.

  • Since January 2011, police have been investigating a list of roughly 4,000 potential targets whose voicemails may have been hacked as part of this scandal – including Hollywood celebrities, sports figures, politicians, and even members of the British Royal Family, most of whom were unaware of how easily their cell phone functions were hacked.
  • The newsroom at News of the World, the newspaper implicated in the systematic phone hacking, has been closed.
  • Sean Hoare, the whistle-blower who disclosed phone hacking at News of the World, was found dead in his home in Watford, Hertfordshire.  No cause of death has yet been identified.
  • During testimony to Parliament last week, Rupert Murdoch was attacked – by a pie wielding comedian, who was thwarted by Murdoch’s wife Wendi.

Although this email sends a positive message about News Corp's willingness to protect eDiscovery information from this point forward, the instruction arguably comes too late to protect the documents and other ESI that have potentially been destroyed in the months since the investigation into the paper's illegal phone hacking began as well as the years when News Corp faced numerous hacking claims during key periods associated with the those claims.  News International has acknowledged that some messages may be recoverable on backup disks, and the police are trying to recover that information now, said Tom Watson, a Labor Party member of Parliament.

From an eDiscovery perspective, this story may become “Enron-esque” before it’s all over.

So, what do you think? Is this instruction from News International a step toward greater openness and responsibility in this investigation, or is it simply a case of too little, too late? Please share any comments you might have or if you'd like to know more about a particular topic.