Electronic discovery, while undergoing constant change, is still considered uncharted territory. What kinds of information is discoverable is still debated, along with methods for recovering that information. More and more businesses conduct electronic discovery, but examining hard drives is still very expensive. The amount of information available, however, is not in doubt. As this recent article notes, Google stores search data forever.
After 9 months, Google wipes the last octet of IP address, which means there are 256 possibilities for each piece of data. After 18 months, Google anonymizes cookie data. During the first 9 months, searches are easily identifiable. Compared to other search engines, Google maintains this data for a long time. Yahoo scrubs data in 90 days. Bing anonymizes the IP address after 6 months.
Even after the 18 month period, however, the data can still be traced to a unique user. The data can be still be identified by zip code or the name of the town. Combined with other electronic information available, electronic discovery could turn up much more data then you realize.
Obviously there are a number of evidentiary hurdles with gathering this type of evidence. But the more activity a person engages in online, the longer and deeper the trail is. Many people incorrectly consider search data to be anonymous. Most browsers automatically save your search requests; ever notice that previous searches pop right up?
What this means is that clients who are willing to pay for in-depth electronic discovery should be able to recover more information then many lawyers realize. If internet usage is important to your case, be sure to do your due diligence. Things that your client did online they thought were anonymous may in fact be traceable to them.