One of my pet peeves has been the lack of understanding that people have around electronic records. I have written prior blogs about the need to be careful about what goes into email and the like. In particular, I have tried to note these issues whenever I see them on the front page of the paper (yes, I still read the Journal in hard copy). Well, on Monday there was an article about Congress calling for an investigation of Countrywide's VIP program after discovering that phone recordings had been destroyed. I have no clue about the circumstances of the destruction, and it could easily be completely innocent.
According to the WSJ,
A Bank of America spokesman said in a written statement that the VIP recordings "were retained only for a limited time or until avialable recording space was utilized. Due to these limitations, we have no recordings from before July 2008 when Bank of American assumed management of Countrywide and terminated the VIP program."
Perhaps Bof A was following some regular corporate policy and the destruction of the recordings had nothing to do with the contents.
What I really want to get to (for which this article in the WSJ is just the jumping off point) is that destruction of records (electronic or not) can be a really bad idea. Lawyers have a word for destruction of evidence "Spoliation." The link is to Dictionary.com, but here is how Black's Law Dictionary defines spoliation:
The destruction of evidence. It constitutes and obstruction of justice. The destruction, or the significant or meaningful alteration of a document or instrument.
There is also a wonderful latin phrase "contra spoliatorem onmia praesumuntur". A rough translation of this phrase is that all presumptions go against the destroyer of evidence. Not only does it look bad, a judge and a jury and a prosecutor are likely to assume it is bad.