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Email Metadata Leads to Petraeus Resignation – eDiscovery Trends

As reported on by Megan Garber of The Atlantic, email location data led FBI investigators to discover CIA director David Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell that led to his resignation.  The irony is that FBI investigators weren’t aware of, or looking for, information regarding the affair.  Here’s what happened, according to the article.

“Sometime in May, The New York Times reports, Broadwell apparently began sending emails to Jill Kelley, the Petraeus acquaintance (her precise connection to the family isn’t yet fully clear) — and those emails were “harassing,” according to Kelley. The messages were apparently sent from an anonymous (or, at least, pseudonymous) account. Kelley reported those emails to the FBI, which launched an investigation — not into Petraeus, but into the harassing emails.”

“From there, the dominoes began to fall. And they were helped along by the rich data that email providers include in every message they send and deliver — even on behalf of its pseudonymous users. Using the ‘metadata footprints left by the emails,’ the Wall Street Journal reports, ‘FBI agents were able to determine what locations they were sent from. They matched the places, including hotels, where Ms. Broadwell was during the times the emails were sent.’ From there, ‘FBI agents and federal prosecutors used the information as probable cause to seek a warrant to monitor Ms. Broadwell’s email accounts.’”

Once the investigators received that warrant, they “learned that Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Petraeus had set up private Gmail accounts to use for their communications, which included explicit details of a sexual nature, according to U.S. officials. But because Mr. Petraeus used a pseudonym, agents doing the monitoring didn’t immediately uncover that he was the one communicating with Ms. Broadwell.”

Ultimately, monitoring of Ms. Broadwell’s emails identified the link to Mr. Petraeus and the investigation escalated, despite the fact that the investigators “never monitored Mr. Petraeus’s email accounts”.

Needless to say, if the Director of the CIA can be tripped up by email metadata from an account other than his own, it could happen to anyone.  It certainly gives you an idea of the type of information that is discoverable not just from opposing parties, but third parties as well.

So, what do you think?  Have you ever identified additional sources of data through discovery of email metadata?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Thanks to Perry Segal’s e-Discovery Insights blog for the tip on this story!

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