Relevant Background

I'm a post doc at a U.S. University. I need the files of a grad student research assistant who has left the lab. The student created files (data, codes, simulations, etc) for a few contracts the lab had, which funded him.

This student has been very difficult to contact, and stubborn to send the files. Compounding my problems, the student did his work on 2 computers: (1) his personal laptop, and (2) a lab computer which has had its hard drive wiped. It is important to note that the student used the university internet server the entire time (it's the only way he could use university licensed software). At this point, I have given up on him sending the files.


In general, is it possible to retrieve files (or at least screenshots, old emails, etc) from an employee who is using her/his personal laptop computer but using the company's internet server? If the individual was to log onto to company's Internet wifi server again with their personal laptop, could his files be downloaded and retrieved?

Could the files still exist within the university somehow? This RA wiped his company computer's hard drive before leaving. Since the student used the University internet server, the files could have been monitored and even obtained legally (I think). In the US it's legal for an employer to monitor an employee if they're using company property (internet server, computer, etc). Is it common for a major research university to obtain backup files of all the researchers' work through the Internet server? Or are the files forever gone (at least from a practical point of view)?

I've talked to IT people but have not reached a knowledgeable person yet. Any information would help, this is really holding back the progress of the lab and my required deliverables. The grad student left spontaneously after the semester - otherwise the professor and lab director would have obtained the files from him.

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    This is a computing technology question, not a workplace question. I would suggest adding in either the security or superuser discussions. Voting to close. – keshlam Jun 7 '16 at 2:52
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    This should be migrated to security.se, not superuser. – user41761 Jun 7 '16 at 4:59
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    More likely law.stackexchange. If the research assistant was paid for his work, and destroyed all the copies before leaving, there will be some legal responsibility. – gnasher729 Jun 7 '16 at 6:12
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    Is he still a student? Talk to the university to see if they will compel him to settle this with the lab (e.g. before he is allowed to get his certificate). – Brandin Jun 7 '16 at 6:38
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    "I've talked to IT people but have not reached a knowledgeable person yet." That might be a good question for workplace. :-) – gnasher729 Jun 7 '16 at 10:00

You can retrieve old emails because being copied on another device is what "send" does. If he used the university's email server, the server should still have a copy of these emails (it is legal to access them in some countries, but not in others). If not, the recipient of the emails will still have access to the emails.

Files are on his hard drive, unless he uploaded them onto another storage device somewhere, such as a university network drive, or a USB stick. You can retrieve content from the lab PC if the IT configured it to automatically make copies of the files, a backup. Files deleted from a drive can be restored, under certain conditions, if you have access to the drive.

If his laptop was compromised and then connected to a network, then you would be able to retrieve the files, by taking control of the laptop and telling it to copy them somewhere. The legality of this is questionable at best.

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