Deleted Email Messages

Dear Computer Lady,

I have a couple questions regarding the deletions of e-mails. When I delete an Inbox message and it goes to Deletions, then through Edit I “permanently delete” is it actually permanently deleted, or does it stay on the hard drive somewhere?

Is it possible to recover an e-mail that was permanently deleted? If it does still exist somewhere, is it possible to get rid of it somehow?
Thanks for your help, Michael


Dear Michael,

A lot of the answers to your questions depends on what you are using for an email program, and if you are accessing your email messages on a local program, or using an online interface.

If you are using an online interface for your email, the deleted email files are on the server, and you don’t have any control over how permanently they are deleted. Even if you use an email program that downloads messages to your hard drive, they were once stored on the server, and might be still accessible to people or organizations with the right software.

The steps you list in your question for permanently deleting your messages sounds like you are using an email program like Windows Mail. When you delete your messages as you describe, the message is marked as deleted, but still is on your hard drive until another file overwrites it.

Even though the file is still on your hard drive for a time, you will not be able to access it without specialized data recovery software. As far as getting rid of the messages, there are software programs that you can purchase that will securely delete files, but I have not used any of them so I can’t give you a recommendation.

We should always be careful when writing and sending digital messages. Once you publish or send something over the internet, it may be impossible to totally get rid of it. I personally never write or send any messages that I would not want the whole world to see.


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    • beverett7
    • April 22, 2011

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I have been reading your email newsletters regularly for several years. Thanks for all the great help and good ideas you have given. Regarding permanently AND COMPLETELY removing emails, documents, photos, etc. from your computer (hard drive or external storage such as USB drive), I have downloaded a free program called “File Shredder” (I think I got the link from one of your email newsletters: I have used it several times with what I believe to be complete success. In File Shredder you can choose between 5 different shredding algorithms, each one gradually stronger than the previous one. One of them is from the U.S. military; it overwrites about 32 times which certainly should be enough. It also has integrated Disk Wiper which uses shredding algorithm to wipe unused disk space (some of this contains your “permanently deleted” stuff). You can shred single documents, whole folders and/or whole drives (which, incidently, the FORMAT command does not do). I used it on computers and ZIP disks that I donated to charity. It is easy and fast to use.

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