News International, publisher of the now-defunct News Of The World newspaper, directed service providers contracted to maintain its email system to delete messages, according to Indian outsourcer HCL Technologies in a letter to the Home Affairs Committee.
HCL said that it was asked on nine occasions to work on the deletions with another vendor who was responsible for the email archival system where the bulk of old emails is kept, and also for deletions and restoration configurations, according to the letter. The other provider was not named
HCL said it was not aware of any wrongdoing. The deletion of emails in day-to-day business is a legal and common practice, according to lawyers speaking recently to Computerworld UK, but deleting messages when an investigation or court case is taking place would be viewed unfavourably.
As a remote infrastructure services provider to News International, HCL's services were mainly related to the live e-mail system, and such services do not require or provide for the storing of any e-mail data by HCL.
HCL was responding through its solicitors, Stuart Benson and Company, to a letter last month from Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee.
HCL said it was able to identify nine instances of discussion on e-mail deletions all of which occurred between April 2010 and July 2011.
In September 2010, for example, News International requested HCL to coordinate with the third-party vendor for deletion of e-mails from the e-mail archival system, to stabilize the system and make the archive of a more manageable size and number of years.
The letter did not say whether HCL cooperated with the specific request, but the solicitor said that the issue of deletions arose from time to time during the course of the contract. "I do however wish to emphasise that my client is aware of nothing which appears abnormal, untoward or inconsistent with its contractual role," the solicitor Stuart Benson said.
In January 2011, News International wanted to know from HCL about its ability to "truncate a particular database" in the email archival system. HCL said it answered in the negative, and suggested assistance from the third-party vendor.
Vaz wrote to HCL last month asking for information on whether News International currently holds or has ever held a contract with HCL, whether HCL holds emails for News International within its storage facilities in India, and if News International has ever requested HCL to delete any of the emails.
The charge about the destruction of data by HCL at its facility in Chennai in south India was first made in Parliament in early July. Allegations surfaced that managers at News International asked HCL to delete emails related to accessing phone records.
HCL said that it does not and never stored any data in India or anywhere else in the world for News International, and therefore the question of deleting e-mails data held by it did not arise. This stand was reiterated by the company's CEO and vice-chairman, Vineet Nayar, in an earnings call last week. The company entered into a contract with News International in 2009, he added.