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Watch Your Back

You'd better be careful--your company's e-mail messages could come back to haunt you in court.

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This story appears in the May 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you thought the "e" in e-mail stood for "electronic," wise up. Nowadays, good old e-mail is likely to be "evidence" if you, your company or any of your employees is the target of a legal attack.

That's the lesson being hammered home across the country over the past few years, beginning with Bill Gates' televised failures to recall embarrassing e-mail dredged up during Microsoft's antitrust hearings. Gates and Microsoft escaped that incident without serious damage, but the costs of failure to police e-mail are going up. Last fall, for instance, a manager at a Wall Street investment firm was sentenced to one to three years in jail, fined $400,000, and barred from the securities industry for life for destroying e-mail sought by prosecutors in a trading scandal.

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