Definition

discovery mailbox

A discovery mailbox is a dedicated target mailbox administrators can use to conduct in-place e-discovery searches in Exchange Server 2010 and later versions, as well as the hosted email service Exchange Online.

Discovery is a legal process that ensures each party involved in a lawsuit can obtain relevant evidence from the other party. Discovery often includes access to depositions, interrogations and numerous different documents. Most businesses conduct a significant portion of their operations through email, often discussing sensitive details and attaching important documents -- such as contracts, diagrams and test results -- to email threads. This makes email systems and storage a critical source of evidence in a legal action.

In a civil suit, the plaintiff may use a discovery request to obtain copies of relevant email and documents. Because discovery must balance privacy against the right to access relevant evidence, a discovery request sets parameters on the search criteria. For an Exchange Server environment, the results of a discovery search are copied to the discovery mailbox; the contents may be packaged onto storage media such as a DVD and delivered to the party that requested discovery.

Although Exchange Server setup processes create a discovery mailbox by default, administrators can create additional discovery mailboxes as needed. Each new discovery mailbox can have a storage quota up to 50 GB and will require appropriate permissions to give access to authorized users. A discovery mailbox cannot be converted to a different mailbox type. Messages cannot be sent directly to a discovery mailbox.

While legal professionals, compliance officers and human resources managers will have some interaction with the discovery mailbox, the Exchange Server administrator creates, configures and secures the discovery mailbox. Administrators must use PowerShell -- or Remote PowerShell for Office 365 -- to manage a discovery mailbox and its permissions; the Exchange Admin Center cannot be used for discovery mailbox management.

In most cases, the Exchange Server administrator uses role-based access control to support creation and control of a Discovery Management Group, which allows designated users to invoke discovery tasks -- such as specifying search criteria and message types 00 without elevated administrative privileges. Discovery searches can also be logged to ensure discovery activities can be viewed for verification purposes.

This was last updated in December 2016

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