Indian outsourcing company HCL Technologies has revealed several instances in which its client News International asked it to assist in deleting emails, on the request of the Home Affairs Select Committee currently investigating the phone hacking scandal.
The committee contacted HCL after Tom Watson MP mentioned the company during a House of Commons debate on the affair. "I believe that the police should ask [News International chairman] Mr James Murdoch and [former News of the World editor] Rebekah Brooks whether they know of the attempted destruction of data at the HCL storage facility in Chennai, India," he said.
In a letter to committee chairman Keith Vaz MP, seen by Information Age, HCL’s solicitors Stuart Benson reiterated that at no point did the Indian company store News International’s emails, and only provided remote management services.
However, the letter did provide details of nine requests for assistance in deleting emails that HCL received from News International between April 2010 and July 2011.
Of the nine deletions, four were to resolve strictly technical issues such as delivery failure and duplicate messages, the letter says. Deletion of specific folders of emails was also requested on April 2010 and July 2010, both containing emails that were "no longer needed".
In September 2010, News International contacted HCL for help with "pruning the historic email archives", in co-operation with a third party vendor. The stated objectives were to "stabilise the email archival system" and to "make the email archives of a more manageable size".
And in January 2011, News International asked HCL about "truncating a particular database" in the email archive systems. HCL said that it could not help, and suggested the assistance of the third party vendor.
A request made in April 2011 related to the deletion of a mailbox that was no longer required due to its user having left the company, but HCL says this was never carried out.
The letter emphasised that most email deletions would not have gone through HCL, as News International runs its own first line service desk to deal with most day-to-day issues. Only requests that this service desk could not resolve would have gone through to HCL.
According to the letter, HCL’s contract with News International relates primarily to the live email system, which contains email less than 15 days old. A separate company provided an archive email system to deal with older emails, although the letter noted that HCL did have some administrative dealings with the other vendor.
A Bristol company named Essential Computing was identified by the Guardian as the supplier of News International’s email archive system. Essential Computing has confirmed to Information Age that it was a supplier to News International, but could not discuss the relationship due to the ongoing investigation.