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Boston City Government Discovers Email Retention 184

Posted by Soulskill
from the hey-those-stacks-of-emails-take-up-a-lot-of-space dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Boston Globe, covering a battle to unseat the 16-year incumbent mayor, has found out that the city has no email retention policy. A city official who receives hundreds of emails a day was found to have only 18 emails in his mailbox. The city has enabled journaling on its Exchange server in response. The Globe also notes that they had to curtail requests for emails under the Open Records law because for each mailbox, 'City officials estimated they would charge $5,000 for six months worth of email.'"
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Boston City Government Discovers Email Retention

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  • Alarmed by the deletion of e-mails that could have contained potentially significant information, administration officials recently instituted a new electronic document retention policy and temporary âoejournalingâ(TM)â(TM) program, to keep copies of every e-mail sent and received by every city employee.

    Considering all the news about politicians and their "extracurricular activities", I just had this image of a bunch of emails that were sent and received from escorts and 20 something year old girlfriends or boyfriends. Meaning, they are hiding something and that's why they're deleting them.

    Yes, I am very cynical when it comes to politicians.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by IonOtter (629215)

      Actually, it was probably a bunch of PianoCat videos, 9/11 tribute chain letters and Obama-llama hate mail.

    • by NotBornYesterday (1093817) * on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:57AM (#29404835) Journal
      Massachusetts has a remarkably good record of producing top-notch crooks in our political ecosystem. It is not surprising that they evolved far enough to realize that email is not their friend in court.

      setenv $EMAIL_STORAGE = /dev/null; export $EMAIL_STORAGE
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:07AM (#29404875)

      Its not just politicians. Where I used to work, a disgruntled IT person forwarded emails between an "escort" and a company director to all 6000 company employees. jpg attachments and all.

      • by geekmux (1040042)

        Its not just politicians. Where I used to work, a disgruntled IT person forwarded emails between an "escort" and a company director to all 6000 company employees. jpg attachments and all.

        Could be a new reality show. "When IT Attacks"

        Hey, c'mon now, if "The Office" can make it...

        • Its not just politicians. Where I used to work, a disgruntled IT person forwarded emails between an "escort" and a company director to all 6000 company employees. jpg attachments and all.

          Could be a new reality show. "When IT Attacks"

          Hey, c'mon now, if "The Office" can make it...

          Or Salmon Days! Wait a minute...

    • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @11:03AM (#29405113) Homepage

      You know, if it were just prostitution and extramarital affairs, I wouldn't care if their emails were deleted. Those types of personal vices are rather inconsequential to being a good civil servant. I know that the Republicans saw it as a huge victory when Clinton was impeached basically for having an extramarital affair (and don't tell me that it was for perjury; it was his personal life that was on trial), but, in the grand scheme of things, personal infidelity is probably not the biggest "crime" a public official can commit. I'd choose a president who respects civil liberties & human rights and acts in the interest of the public, but happens to be a philander, over a president who is completely devoted to his wife, but is willing to step on civil liberties, support torture, or sell out the American public to corporate interests. Likewise, I'm much less concerned about a president who lies about his private life than one who lies about justifications for war.

      So, no, I'm not particularly concerned about politicians hiding emails to their girlfriends/boyfriends. We should be so lucky if that's all they were hiding. It's more the potential bribes, nepotism/cronyism, and backroom deals that I'm worried about. Those are the type of things that actually conflict with good governance—in other words, government corruption.

      • by houstonbofh (602064) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @11:28AM (#29405235)

        You know, if it were just prostitution and extramarital affairs, I wouldn't care if their emails were deleted. Those types of personal vices are rather inconsequential to being a good civil servant.

        It is a question of trust. If they will not keep their word to a person they have pledged their life to, and who is (or should be) the closest to them in the world, then they may be lying to me too...

        That said, I don't really trust a damn one of them...

        • I'm not saying that it's not a reflection on their personal character. Sure, if I could choose a president who represented the interest of the people and was a good family man, then I would. But given the selection available to us, I'd settle for just the first criteria. And if we're placing our politicians under public scrutiny (as we should), the focus should be on how they're fulfilling their public duty or any potential criminal conduct, not on personal matters which have no bearing on their role as a c

      • by nbauman (624611)

        in the grand scheme of things, personal infidelity is probably not the biggest "crime" a public official can commit.

        Like Eliot Spitzer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliot_Spitzer [wikipedia.org] After Spitzer was forced out, he was replaced by David Patterson, a nice guy, whose main virtue was his ability to get along with the Republicans, who promptly paid him back by throwing the New York State legislature into chaos http://www.democracynow.org/2009/6/11/ny [democracynow.org] Tom Robbins said in the Village Voice that the exercise was paid for by billionaire Tom Golisano after Spitzer wouldn't agree to cut state taxes for billionaires. http://www.village [villagevoice.com]

      • by mpe (36238)
        You know, if it were just prostitution and extramarital affairs, I wouldn't care if their emails were deleted. Those types of personal vices are rather inconsequential to being a good civil servant. I know that the Republicans saw it as a huge victory when Clinton was impeached basically for having an extramarital affair (and don't tell me that it was for perjury; it was his personal life that was on trial), but, in the grand scheme of things, personal infidelity is probably not the biggest "crime" a public
      • by Dare nMc (468959)

        Some times it matters, I didn't care about Michael Duvall getting caught bragging about his indiscretions with some young thing in front of a open mike (even him being some family values republican). Until that some young thing is a lobbyist, we don't need another loophole where it is now OK to pay for the guys piece of ass, as long as that isn't her only job...

      • by nbauman (624611)

        You know, if it were just prostitution and extramarital affairs, I wouldn't care if their emails were deleted. Those types of personal vices are rather inconsequential to being a good civil servant. I know that the Republicans saw it as a huge victory when Clinton was impeached basically for having an extramarital affair (and don't tell me that it was for perjury; it was his personal life that was on trial), but, in the grand scheme of things, personal infidelity is probably not the biggest "crime" a public official can commit. I'd choose a president who respects civil liberties & human rights and acts in the interest of the public, but happens to be a philander, over a president who is completely devoted to his wife, but is willing to step on civil liberties, support torture, or sell out the American public to corporate interests. Likewise, I'm much less concerned about a president who lies about his private life than one who lies about justifications for war.

        So, no, I'm not particularly concerned about politicians hiding emails to their girlfriends/boyfriends. We should be so lucky if that's all they were hiding. It's more the potential bribes, nepotism/cronyism, and backroom deals that I'm worried about. Those are the type of things that actually conflict with good governance—in other words, government corruption.

      • by bitt3n (941736)

        Those types of personal vices are rather inconsequential to being a good civil servant.

        the only problem with such vices is the possibility of blackmail influencing policy decisions. unfortunately, that is a big problem, because there is little reason to trust a given politician will put the public interest before his career.

  • by ivan256 (17499) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:45AM (#29404777)

    In the recent debate he claimed there was no evidence he was corrupt. I guess this show's it's 'cause he deletes most of it...

    When confronted with the fact that he sold city property to two of his friends for really cheap, he said that it was "only two out of hundreds of deals". I guess it's OK to break the law if you only do it a couple percent of the time?

    Best part? He's going to win again.

    Seems to me that the bigger the city, the more stupid the voters are...

    • by Jurily (900488)

      When confronted with the fact that he sold city property to two of his friends for really cheap, he said that it was "only two out of hundreds of deals". I guess it's OK to break the law if you only do it a couple percent of the time?

      I wish he was Hungarian. I don't know of a single state property being sold without corruption involved since the Soviet army moved out.

    • Seems to me that the bigger the city, the more stupid the voters are...

      "How fortunate for leaders that men do not think"

    • Seems to me that the bigger the city, the more stupid the voters are...

      You obviously don't understand how machine politics works. Voters are not dumb:

      1. individuals allied with the incumbent receive substantial benefit and thus vote for the incumbent
      2. those who are not allied are systematically disenfranchised

      It's not a matter of dumb/smart, it's a matter of organized/unorganized. Those who are organized (the incumbent) wield significant power to ensure that those without power have difficulty organizing (and thus threatening their power).

    • According to TFA (and I have also read this in the Boston newspapers many times over the years) Menino simply does not use email. So in his case there's nothing to save or delete.

      I should say that in itself that doesn't mean he's hiding something. He is, after all, almost seventy. My dad doesn't use email either.
  • by redelm (54142) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:57AM (#29404833) Homepage
    Since very little is monitored LIVE because it is extremely expensive, retention time of email, logs, etc. is crucial. Too long and you encourage witchhunts from the past, too short and you abet felonies.

    The real problem is is that law makers (and enforcement) often think themselves above the law. They made/enforced it, so can change/ignore it. Worse, the punishments for such violations is almost always minor. "Whaddyou gonna doo 'bout it?"

    A simple answer is to charge felony "obstruction of justice", and have the felony provisions remove from office. This is highly unlikely to happen for reasons of "good buddy" through to not causing excessive fear in the bureaucracy.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      Or you know a procmail script which automatically diverts one copy of an email to a storage mailbox and one to the recipient. Inconsequential emails can usually be weeded out fairly quickly later on if needed, and spam isn't that tough to remove via a filter if you don't have to do it immediately.

      The only issue then is storage space and backups, which any decent IT department can handle given a reasonable amount of funding. And it's something that should be done either way.
      • by xC0000005 (715810)
        That's exactly what the journaling option they've implemented does. Mail in or out gets copied to the journal recipient.
    • by timeOday (582209)

      Since very little is monitored LIVE because it is extremely expensive, retention time of email, logs, etc. is crucial.

      I don't see why it is crucial. Phonecalls aren't recorded. Paper mail isn't steamed open and photocopied. I don't really mind if official emails are retained, but mostly what it does is decrease efficiency by steering people away from email even when it would be the most efficient means of communication.

      • by redelm (54142)
        Decrease efficiency -- YES, especially for malfeasance.

        Officials hold offices and are doing public things. They have no right of privacy WRT offical acts. And ought not be doing non-offical acts on the public dime.

      • paper mail is very legal. If you certify a document sent via "normal Mail" like many court summons, then it is legally binding that you received the document at that address. In the case of paper mail You would have a copy that was notarized and the post would have copy of the register if you paid for registered service, but "normal mail" is legally enough. Fax documents can be traced by the phone company (non-repudiation is one thing email doesn't do yet) that your fax called their fax. So if you press

        • by Sparr0 (451780)

          Err, registered mail and traced faxes prove that you sent SOMETHING. They say nothing about the contents.

          See people mailing bricks and then showing USPS shipping receipts to PayPal.

          • so what? It's still binding.
            • by Sparr0 (451780)

              It's still binding on who for what? You have proof that you mailed something to me. You have no proof that you mailed the document in question.

              • Binding on the defendant for receipt of process. If you don't think it was properly served, argue with the judge. For a fee, you can have a sheriff's deputee serve process.
                • by Sparr0 (451780)

                  Where I live (GA), that's only binding if the court does the mailing. If you personally mail the subpoena, with any sort of confirmation/tracking you can name, you've got no proof of receipt. That's the way it should be, in the same way as evidentiary chain of custody. If anyone involved in the process isn't "part of the system" and legally trusted then the process is suspect.

      • by Dare nMc (468959)

        phones can be recorded at any-time, paper is "hard" evidence and any fraud going through federal mail is automatically a felony. Email has to be more difficult unless something is built into the system, and without a context, and history it isn't all that convincing. IE if whistle blower turns on him, a retained email you received isn't good evidence, unless we have a hard log somewhere that has the meaningful bits in it. If you record a call you have voice prints, and difficulty to have undetectable mod

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rtb61 (674572)

      Originally, I felt that email for government should be retained, however there really does need to be a different consideration between formal and informal email ie. email that is a part of formal administrative functions and email that just represents informal communications.

      The question is where exactly do you fit in email between old world snail mail and a conversation whether in person on via say voip. Very interesting when you compare voip to email, as they both represent digital electronic transmiss

  • New manning slot? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GaryOlson (737642) <<slashdot> <at> <garyolson.org>> on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:19AM (#29404905) Journal
    Everyone raise their equivalent electronic hands who thinks the City of Boston is going to increase manning for the IT staff to accommodate this increase in workload, scope, and new technology implementation?

    No hands. Sucks to be an IT admin for the City of Boston about now.
    • Everyone raise their equivalent electronic hands who thinks the City of Boston is going to increase manning for the IT staff to accommodate this increase in workload, scope, and new technology implementation? No hands. Sucks to be an IT admin for the City of Boston about now.

      Nothing will happen for the near future. The city will say "We don't have enough money to implement this" (which is probably true) and ask for more money, which will be rejected. Eventually someone will get a court order, ordering
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by yuna49 (905461)

        Not enough money? Give me a break. I can build a Linux box that runs MailScanner, stick it in front of whatever e-mail server they run, and have that box archive every single message. Throw in a few terabyte drives and the whole thing might come to $5-10K including my time. I consult to a Community Health Center and have built a fairly elaborate scripted system that archives emails for every single mailbox every night and rotates the archives in accordance with the health center's policies. I think I c

        • It has nothing to do with not having enough money, and everything to do with arrogance, greed, and corruption.

          FTFY
        • by GaryOlson (737642)
          I see you lack experience with a marginally competent workforce who has been handed a mandate. Civil servants attempt to transfer thru email 2GB spreadsheets, ppt presentations, or pdf files. Once the mandate for retention is implemented, these civil servants attempt to use their inbox as a CVS for these files. Administration won't provide budget for CVS training for these marginal bureaucrats; and the staff won't learn on their own initiative. And, rather than showing proper leadership, administration gets
  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:49AM (#29405043)

    Since 1930, every mayor of Boston has been a Democrat.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mayors_of_Boston [wikipedia.org]

  • by galactic-ac (1197151) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @12:13PM (#29405483)
    I fail to see why it's relevant that an individual end user had only 18 emails when he receives hundreds daily. I would love to have this individual in my organization, less chance of corrupt Outlook .pst files and less to backup from the workstation. Retention policies should have nothing whatsoever to do with what recipients retain in their local mail stores. Retention, compliance, and backup policies are enforced at the server.
    • Yes. Done at the server. By an admin who answers to a manager who answers to someone who answers to someone who answers to the Mayor. Are you telling me that Menino doesn't know what's going on? "Hmm, those hundreds of emails from yesterday are gone ... I wonder what could have happened."
  • The state house (Where they do their business) has a inappropriately (or appropriately name) entrance on the side. It's called "The General Hooker Entrance". (And no, I'm not making that one up. Just google it.) Here's a photo link http://www.madspedersen.com/photos/1267_large.jpg [madspedersen.com]
  • Does it reasonably cost $5000 in man hours to retrieve 6 months worth of emails from one persons mailbox in Microsoft Exchange?

    • by Degrees (220395)

      Depends on if they have daily backups that are retained that long. So if there really are 180 tapes that have to be loaded (more like 170, as the most recent tapes are probably still in the library), and each restore takes about one hour of work to do, and the employees involved get paid about $30 per hour, then yes that works out to about $5,000. Where I work, it takes longer than an hour to retrieve a set of tapes because the tapes are sent-off site (you are paying for travel time and mileage), and one

    • The biggest problem is that you have to intend to be able to recover data to begin with. Journaling results in a record set where you basically say "Give me everything From X or To X". If they are really doing a RSG/Recover Mailbox to recover data it's again unlikely that it costs this much, with one caveat - Your organization has to have intended to be able to recover data to start with. That is, if they don't have hardware, they don't have a recovery plan or expertise in this area the first one can be di
  • Or rather - it can be found. It just depends on how hard you want to look. Let's say that they dont' do full backups nightly (fairly reasonable depending on hardware and a bunch of other factors). Get the last full backup and then you'll have a set of logs from each incremental. Copy that full backup into the RSG and start it up. Exmerge out and that's your baseline. Stop the RSG and copy back the default (I've heard from recovery guys that they use a virtual box and revert). Copy in a set of logs, lather,

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