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Privacy Government United States Communications Politics

White House Ordered to Preserve All Email 259

Posted by Zonk
from the IT-at-that-place-just-got-harder dept.
Verunks writes "A federal judge Monday ordered the White House to preserve copies of all its e-mails in response to two lawsuits that seek to determine whether e-mails have been destroyed in violation of federal law. The issue surfaced in the leak probe of administration officials who disclosed Valerie Plame's CIA identity. ' The Federal Records Act details strict standards prohibiting the destruction of government documents including electronic messages, unless first approved by the archivist of the United States. Justice Department lawyers had urged the courts to accept a proposed White House declaration promising to preserve all backup tapes. The judge's order "should stop any future destruction of e-mails, but the White House stopped archiving its e-mail in 2003 and we don't know if some backup tapes for those e-mails were already taped over before we went to court. It's a mystery," said Meredith Fuchs, a lawyer for the National Security Archive.'"
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White House Ordered to Preserve All Email

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  • by pla (258480) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:52AM (#21335283) Journal
    Since AT&T has been spying on everyone since spring of 2000, why not ask them for copies of Whitehouse and NRC.com emails?

    Whoever modded this "funny" clearly doesn't "get" it.

    +5 "insightful (and scary as hell)", not "funny".
  • by DuncanE (35734) * on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:53AM (#21335289) Homepage
    Firstly I would like to state I'm not an American citizen (I'm Australian).

    I have always felt that freedom is better served by people hiding their truths.

    No one... not even democracy.. has the right to ask someone to hand over their private thoughts. Not even if they are in a written letter. Not even if they are in an electronic email. Not even if that person is a President of a country.

    So while I understand if people what to read George W's email to the Vice-Pres, I have to point out the GW's email to his daughters should be protected to the fullest extent of the law and ... to the fullest extent of humanity.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:03AM (#21335359)

    So while I understand if people what to read George W's email to the Vice-Pres, I have to point out the GW's email to his daughters should be protected to the fullest extent of the law and ... to the fullest extent of humanity.
    Easy peasy. Don't use official systems for personal business. The taxpayers are the owners of the government systems, so if the president doesn't like the rules for using our equipment, he can get another job.
  • by RandoX (828285) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:04AM (#21335367)
    Apparently you aren't dealing with the same users I am. The ones that paste (15) 1 meg bitmap screenshots into each email. Then send it to the global email address. Then each of those users replies to all and asks why it was sent to them. Again, with (15) 1 meg screen shots in the email. You don't have those users?
  • by bhwrice (1185913) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:16AM (#21335469)
    the fact that they stopped archiving seems so suspect to me, like they definitely have something to hide. Oh sure, they pass anti-privacy bills like the patriot act, but when it comes to themselves they don't want to leave a trace... "the White House stopped archiving its e-mail in 2003 and we don't know if some backup tapes for those e-mails were already taped over before we went to court."
  • by innerweb (721995) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:26AM (#21335579)

    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

    Once more, the oft quoted post is more tragic than humorous. I doubt the individuals controlling the White House will actually listen to a Judge any more than they pay attention to the constitution. This will probably spur them into a deletion frenzy. They will probably simply find another way to communicate that has less of a trail.

    It is kind of like making it illegal to own guns or use encryption. The criminals never listen anyway.

    InnerWeb

  • Two accounts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Etrias (1121031) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:31AM (#21335647)
    Remember folks, there are two accounts that we should consider here. As there is an executive order to preserve all "official" communication, the White House emails are likely not that hard to get as they would be breaking federal law if they deleted those emails.

    However, the likelihood of what they are looking for are actually in the RNC emails, those are the ones that should be under federal order not to be destroyed. The current administration (under the direction of Karl Rove) was directed to have most of their communication about political strategy (under which the whole Plame event would have qualified) to be routed through RNC accounts.

    Bush, of course, does not use email. As loath as I am to say so, if he wanted to be secret, not using email is a pretty good way to achieve the lack of culpability for any political shenanigans.
  • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:40AM (#21335767) Homepage Journal
    Still doesn't matter.

    Computer security is all about taking care where the effort warrants it. You don't create invulnerable systems, you create systems where the expected value of threats is negligible.

    What's bugging you isn't that the users are using the email system as a shared file system; what's bugging you is that they're doing that and nobody but you thinks it is worth spending the money to deal with the potential consequences of that.

    I'd say it's worth investing in some serious redundancy and backup capability if the consequences of losing the information is that the executive branch doesn't, in effect, remember what it was up to.
  • by jav1231 (539129) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:42AM (#21335805)
    Just clinging to that Clinton legacy (well spun, I might add) aren't we? Remember there were PLENTY of document scandals and privacy hacks under Clinton. I'd have more respect for people if they made this less about who's in power and more about the activity involved. Once someone starts the conversation with "typical Bush administration" this or "Clinton cover-up" that we pretty-much fail to stand on the pillar of truth. It becomes an "us and them" scenario and the jig is up.
  • by plopez (54068) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:56AM (#21335941) Journal
    Whenever there is misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, corruption or sheer incompetence you can almost guarantee that a President will hide behind "Executive Privilege". Which I challenge you to find anywhere in the US Constitution, it in fact does not exist. They will use "Executive Privilege" to ignore the courts and grab more power for the Presidency. It is for reasons such as this that I have come to believe that the Constitution must be amended and the office of the Presidency abolished. It is simply too much power in the hands of one person, with the temptation to seize even more power.

    However I see the chances of this happening as slim to know, as many people not only desire a President but actually a King or Emperor. In their world view, they need to see somebody "in charge", even if that person is a travesty.
  • by E++99 (880734) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:56AM (#21335943) Homepage
    I think the first, most obvious question would be, by what Constitutional power can Congress determine the manner in which the President keeps (or doesn't keep) his records? Just as Democrats accuse Bush of using 9/11 as an excuse to subvert the Constitution, the Democrats have used Nixon as an excuse to subvert the Constitution.
  • by charliebear (887653) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:59AM (#21335977)
    Another reason for regular, scheduled email and other document destruction is to avoid the COST of combing through old archived tapes, etc in the event of a lawsuit, to classify evidence that is ok to turn over, and evidence that is disputed (i.e. trade secrets, etc). Say you have 500 employees, who each receive 20 emails a day on average. That's 10,000 emails per day, with a 5 day work week, that's 2.6 million per year. If your company is sued, you can't just turn over copies of every email without first reviewing them. If your policy is to delete email after 1 year, the most you have to deal with is 2.6 million. If you are not allowed to delete email, you are looking at a much larger (and expensive) job
  • by purpledinoz (573045) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @10:02AM (#21336011)
    What's the point of this lawsuit anyway. If there's a conviction, then there'll be a pardon shortly after. No one's going to get punished, so there's no reason to stop breaking the law.
  • by necro81 (917438) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @10:06AM (#21336083) Journal
    It is generally accepted that, as a foundation of democracy, government transparency is essential. It is to this end, and for historical posterity, that records of communications within the White House (and Congress, and the Supreme Court) are preserved. The Presidential Records Act has been around for nearly three decades, and it has yet to be overturned on constitutional grounds.

    As a clarification: the manner of the preservation isn't specified by law, only that the preservation be done.

    As another clarification: the subversion that people (not just Democrats, and not just in the U.S.) accuse Bush of tends towards greater government secrecy and curtailing civil liberties. The subversion people accused Congress of in the wake of Nixon is towards greater government transparency and a weakened Executive. Each citizen must make their own judgement as to which is the greater subversion.
  • by pla (258480) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @10:23AM (#21336269) Journal
    Especially since if they started in spring 2000, it was under Clinton's authority.

    Defensive much?

    I don't give a damn about whether Bush or Clinton or Mahatma frickin' Gandhi started the domestic wiretapping program. I just care that it exists, an affront to everything America stands (or rather, "stood") for. Like torture, any debate over the "legality" of it misses the point completely.

    As for your curious defense of TweedleDum(R) over TweedleDee(D), I also don't care that Bush calls himself a Republican. Clinton? Scum of the Earth, and I wouldn't let him within 50 yards of a female relative; through Janet Reno, he singlehandedly destroyed the last shred of respect people had for the DOJ.

    But Bush??? Personally, I would consider him the single worst, and the least Republican, president in US history - And I include FDR, "The Great Socialist" in that comparison. Republicans (claim to) believe in fiscal responsibility, small government, and minding their own business to the point of isolationism; Bush has racked up a debt that dwarfs his predecessors; made the government bigger and more intrusive than ever; and followed a foreign policy of busybody-ism resulting in massively decreased security for not just us but the whole world.

    And you want to view it as a game of left-vs-right? We may as well argue about who has the nicer cufflinks.

    Our government, regardless of meaningless party affiliations, has declared war against its own citizens. If you think it cares which letter, D or R, appears on your driver's license - Well, enjoy your false sense of security while it lasts.



    As an aside, the letter that appears on my driver's license might surprise you. So do me the credit of having a better argument than whining that "Clinton did it first", hoping that I'll have no comeback to that, as though it excuses anything.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:20AM (#21337115) Journal
    Well, you have nothing to hide. You don't have to worry if the Dems get the senate and congressional committee chairpersonship and the subpoena powers that go with it, what they will find if they trawl through your mail. Now tell me why would they not think it is a good idea to erase the trail? Especially when they can say very innocently "oops" and there are enough people who would pretend to believe them.
  • by divisionbyzero (300681) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:34AM (#21337333)
    Yeah, they already have found a way around it. They use unofficial email addresses to discuss their dirty work. They aren't under any obligation to preserve emails sent or received via, say, their Republic National Committee email address.
  • by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:49AM (#21337551) Homepage Journal
    The mistake is in the words "your mail." It's not Bush's or Cheney's email, it belongs the the USA, and it needs to be kept in accordance with US records retention policies.

    When you're at work, you keep or delete email based on your employer's records retention policies, not your own whims.

    When you're at home, go ahead and do as you like.
  • by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @11:59AM (#21337739)
    Shrub is bad, for plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with wiretapping.

    And no, Clinton wasn't any prize either.

    The worst thing is that they are both just symptoms of the real problem.
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @12:45PM (#21338495) Homepage
    You are deeply confused. In that case the Supreme Court ruled that they did have the power issue such orders to the executive branch and its officers when the order respected actions specified by law. They ruled that they do not have such power when the actions are merely those actions dictated to the officers by the President and are not dictated by law.

    The White House data retention policies are dictated by law. The court absolutely has the power to order the executive branch to comply with the law.
  • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:34PM (#21339223) Homepage
    Yeah, they already have found a way around it. They use unofficial email addresses to discuss their dirty work. They aren't under any obligation to preserve emails sent or received via, say, their Republic National Committee email address.

    On the contrary, every communication they make regadless of media is subject to the Presidential records act.

    I have some personal experience of this, during the Clinton administration every communication had to be surrendered to the arcivist, even if it was nothing more than a comment scribbled in the margine of a printed paper. The use of an external mail system from the Executive Office of the President was completely forbidden.

    The difference between using the Whitehouse system and the RNC email servers is that the Whitehouse systems are privileged for an initial five years after the President leaves office and can be extended for a further seven. The RNC email system is not a government system, is not covered by any form of privilege whatsoever.

    The other difference is security. The Whitehouse email systems are subject to security review by the NSA. The RNC system was not, they didn't even do security reviews of employees. The systems were not partitioned from systems serving other customers either. So as a result I would not be at all suprised if when the RNC denies having copies of some embarassing email or other if the Ambassador from Venezuela, Cuba, Iran or the like would 'helpfully' turn up with a hard drive full of the missing messages.

  • Re:Way too late (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cro Magnon (467622) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:38PM (#21339301) Homepage Journal
    I never said it was acceptable. I said it wasn't JUST Bush & Republicans that did it. I agree that both parties need to clean up their acts badly. But to bash the Republicans and to ignore the Democrat's own abuses is a serious mistake, because it means we'll just replace one set of evil crooks with another.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:34PM (#21340179)
    Yeah cause we all know that prior administrations were so forthcoming with their information and Hillary will post everything to the white house website for all to see.

  • Re:Way too late (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pfleming (683342) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @07:50PM (#21344183) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like a child's response when they get in trouble.

    Mom: Johnny, did you skip school today?
    Johnny: Jimmy did it too!
    That doesn't make it all right. And what Nixon got impeached for is nothing like what we're doing now under the guise of fighting terrorism.
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @12:57AM (#21346515) Homepage

    a) Scooter Libby didn't leak Plame's name to anyone.
    b) Anybody without BDS knows that Richard Armitage "leaked" her name to Novak. I'll even give you a CNN link:


    Duh, it's the conspiracy to cover up the leak that's more interesting than the leak itself. It's this administration's incredible desire for secrecy in all things -- especially regarding their fuck-ups -- that is why issues like this email retention policy are so important.

    p.s. Oh yeah:
    c) Libby wasn't pardoned.


    No, his sentence was only commuted by President Bush. Nice weaseling there; he's still not going to jail like I was saying. So the conviction still stands -- that's the 'ruined political careers' thing I was talking about. That's about all we can hope for these days. Bush was considering a full pardon until he realized what the political fallout would be for him. Libby was in either case ruined as a political figure.

    What I find funny is how Scooter was convicted basically of lying, and you're satisfied with the explanation that it was just an accidental slip of the tongue that was coincidentally politically expedient to discredit a detractor and confirmed by Karl Rove who mysteriously knew about all this. Even though we know that not all the facts are available since they were, again accidentally and again conveniently, deleted. And then you're splitting hairs over a pardon, versus not suffering the full penalty of the law due to the personal intervention of Pres. Bush. Oh yeah, that's totally different, and definitely not just a political compromise.

    I'm finding it hard to figure out what your point was. My point I hope was clear: That these kinds of cases, even if they don't result in jail time because the President's friends are immune to that, are at least politically damaging and thus worth pursuing. Scooter is a perfect example.

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