A subpoena is a court-issued command for an individual or corporate representative to appear before the court or to provide specific evidence. Failure to comply with a subpoena without good reason can result in contempt-of-court charges. Legislation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations stipulate how information must be handled and how long it must be retained.
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Subpoenas are frequently issued for stored or archived data such as e-mail or instant messaging correspondence. For example, if a corporate executive is accused of insider trading, a subpoena may demand all e-mail messages sent and received during a specific time frame. If the executive can not produce these records, the court may issue a subpoena to any Internet Service Provider ( ISP ) handling his Internet access account(s). Subpoenas may also be directed at people with whom the accused individual regularly corresponds.
E-mail messages should be considered business records and stored accordingly. Meticulous e-mail archiving (also called e-mail retention), like the retention of tax records, has become an essential part of the record-keeping routine for all businesses.
The word subpoena derives from the Latin phrase sub poena, meaning under penalty.