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Anyway, towards the end of my employment, I happened upon a few pallets of old computers from various departments of XYZ County. Items of note included a pair of Gateway servers (the first I'd ever seen in person, I almost didn't believe Gateway made them!) from the ABC wastewater treatment plant and a black ATX full tower case with no sides and evidence tape all over it. I pulled it upstairs because it had some very very nice components in it, top of the line in late 2002 (a typical computer to get on a pallet is a beige box from 1996, PC or Mac). Supplied with monitor, mouse, keyboard, and power, it booted into Windows 2000, automatically logged in, and in general seemed to be in very good working order. I used Google to search the rather unique surname that was markered on the 'seized as evidence' label and found some correlations with business documents on the PC itself. The contents of the computer were the usual mix of pornography, cracked video games, and IT deployment and migration plans that you'd expect from a feisty little dotcom specialising in media streaming technologies. I had initially assumed that the computer was seized as evidence of naughtiness by the company itself, but it turned out after contacting the original owner of the PC that it was evidence in a case against his father and they promised him that they'd return the PC eventually. Well as it turned out, there was no evidence on the computer's hard drive anyways, as his father had never used it, and they never returned the guy his PC and dumped it at our recycling plant, consigning his hardware and data to the trash heap. I did not think that was a very good ending to the situation, so I bought the drive from my company and mailed it to the original owner (I believe his dad was convicted of whatever and went to jail).
What is ethical in this situation? Obviously I violated the expectation of XYZ County that my company would wipe all of the data, but was it really theirs? Aren't they supposed to return evidence that wasn't even used, and obtained from people who weren't even defendants? I understand the owner was insistent for quite a while that his system be returned and promises were made but nothing came of it. I also feel bad about having snooped on the guy's computer, but he was quite understanding and pretty relieved in the e-mails I received from him."