HCL discloses 'email deletion' requests from News International

Home Affairs Committee told: nothing to see here

News International asked a leading Indian IT management outfit about the deletion of emails on nine separate occasions between April 2010 and July 2011.

HCL Technologies disclosed the information in a letter from its solicitors to MP Keith Vaz, who is chair of the Home Affairs Committee, yesterday.

The company stressed that it "principally" manages News International's "live email system", and added that the newspaper publisher, which is currently the subject of several police investigations including one into alleged phone-hacking, has its own "in-house 'Service Desk' team".

HCL said NI's internal helpdesk typically deals with the obvious sysadmin tasks such as mailbox creation, deletion and so on.

The company said its services did not extend to storing any email data.

"HCL does not hold and has not stored any such emails in any of its facilities in the world. The emails are all stored on News International's owned systems within the UK," said the offshorer.

An unnamed vendor has a separate "email archival system" contract with News International, noted HCL in its letter penned by Stuart Benson and Company to Vaz.

It said that the "bulk of old emails (greater than two weeks) lie in that system".

"HCL in the context of this system only performs basic administrative jobs. It also, sometimes coordinates with such vendor for restoring, deleting user archives on instructions from News International."

It then goes on to list nine separate instances over the course of the past 15 months where HCL had been involved in discussions with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp-owned sister company NI.

HCL points to thousands of emails being deleted during that period, including the removal of more than 200,000 "delivery failure messages" that the company said were trashed before it could "initiate any action".

The firm deleted 21,000 messages stuck in one outbox on direct instructions from NI to "restore email functionality for that mailbox."

Various public folders were deleted that held unwanted "older emails" or involved "maintenance work" on the live email system managed by HCL.

In September 2010, the "historic email archives" were pruned, according to the letter. HCL was asked to coordinate with the unnamed third-party vendor for deletion of emails from that system.

The company said it did this in response to NI's "stated objectives" that the email archival system had suffered "frequent outages since November 2009" and needed to be "stabilised".

Additionally the publisher of the now-defunct News of the World Sunday tabloid at the centre of the police probe into illegal voicemail interception claimed it wanted to reduce the "size and years" of the email archive to make it "more manageable".

Another instance involved the deletion of "duplicate emails" of users whose messages were migrated over from Microsoft Exchange 2003 mail server to MS Exchange 2010.

Last month HCL was asked by News International's helpdesk to assist it in the deletion of a mailbox from the live email system following replication errors during migration work.

"The Service Desk was only able to delete it from one system when the user left NI and requested HCL to do the other," it said.

There was only one instance in the nine discussions with News International that were listed by HCL in its legal letter to Vaz where the IT management company refused to respond to the publisher's request.

In January this year, it asked HCL about its ability to "truncate a particular database" in the email archival systems.

"HCL answered in the negative," it said, "and suggested assistance from the third-party vendor. In layman's term, truncating a database simply means deleting data from the database."

Noida, India-based HCL won a multi-million pound five-year deal to manage News International's "IT infrastructure" in 2009. Part of the contract included management of NI's data centre and networks.

"My client is aware of nothing which appeared abnormal, untoward or inconsistent with its contractual role," said HCL's solicitor.

Separately, PTS Consulting was drafted in by the newspaper publisher's then head of infrastructure and operations Chris Birch, who has been the company's digital director since November last year, to review data centre kit and management.

"News International wanted to know the detail concerning the equipment installed within its data centres together with who is responsible for it and what is running on it," said Birch in a testimonial on PTS Consulting's website.

We selected PTS Consulting's SMART tool and appointed its consultants to come on-site, conduct the physical audit, populate SMART with the data and engage with our technical staff through a series of workshops to link equipment to people and applications. The end results have been staggering.

From an Enterprise perspective, we discovered that due to a number of contributing factors, a percentage of our estate is no longer used and we now planning to switch off and remove these devices.

The remainder of our devices are now tracked in SMART and it is helping us to plan our exit from the current data centre, as well as to plan our future strategy for virtualisation and consolidation. PTS Consulting's SMART tool has been instrumental in keeping our data in one place.

The tool along with a tight change control procedure, strong physical access to the data centres and exceptional work by PTS Consulting have helped us go from no control to total control in under six weeks.

As The Register reported yesterday, Scotland Yard is investigating allegations of computer hacking at the News of the World tabloid, which was closed last month, in a separate probe from the Met's current Operation Weeting into phone-hacking claims. ®

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