How do the police recover deleted emails?

E-mail has become more common and popular than regular postage for a variety of uses. Literally defined as a system for sending and receiving messages over a computer network, e-mail is a technology that has enhanced communication speed to the nth degree. Letters that would have taken weeks to reach someone can be sent in minutes, or even seconds. Pictures, video, audios and other electronic media can also be sent via e-mail. E-mail has also been the subject of warrants, and police investigations, since people have sent incriminating documents via computer networks. And often, just deleting the email may not be enough.

Type of Email

Whether or not e-mail can or cannot be recovered (by police, a computer technician or even the computer user) often depends on what sort of e-mail a person uses. If a person uses a type of e-mail that downloads the electronic files onto their personal computer, then there is a chance that when an e-mail is deleted that the data is actually still floating around on the computer, but is just flagged to be over written. For those who use e-mail that's hosted on the Internet, often for free, this isn't as big a risk. In order to optimise storage space and protect their client's privacy, online e-mail providers delete the data completely when their users empty their trash folders.


When a computer file is deleted, the data lingers for a long time on the hard drive. Instead of actually deleting the file in its entirety, the computer simply marks that section of storage to be rewritten when more space is needed. For e-mail that is downloaded to a computer, there is a good chance that a similar process is at work. This means that if the police, or another technician, want to recover the data from "deleted" e-mails, they probably can. Often what's necessary is a knowledge of where these flagged files are stored, and access to software that can scan those areas to bring back e-mails that were supposedly deleted.

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