White House data loss

by Robin Harris on Wednesday, 6 February, 2008

What’s wrong with White House backup?
I published a review of David Gewirtz’s book Where Have All the Emails Gone? over on ZDnet.

A quick overview:

  • The White House may or may not have lost 5 million emails. They aren’t sure.
  • Gewirtz, an email expert, started investigating the White House email infrastructure and found:
    • The mail archiving process is unprofessional and unworkable.
    • The claimed loss of email in a Notes to Exchange migration is highly unlikely.
    • Over 100 million emails from the White House were sent through an insecure ISP in Chattanooga TN.
  • Existing law – the Hatch Act – mandates an external email system for partisan political activity, a ludicrous requirement in a 7×24 Washington.

The Hatch Act prescribes what partisan political activities are acceptable for federal employees. One of the prohibitions is the partisan use of government property. While a good idea in general, in the case of telecom the prohibition is senseless.

White House communications need to be secure. When we force White House employees to use multiple email, IM and computer systems it is inevitable that material received on the internal system will go out over the external system. A single secure system is easier to achieve.

This isn’t about George Bush
This is about maintaining records so the next administration can know how policy got developed and what committments were made. I’ll let others worry about if the loss of the emails was part of a deliberate attempt to cover up criminal activity.

Ironic, isn’t it?
American companies are spending billions for backup and archive software and hardware. But the White House, head of an executive branch with a $3 trillion budget, can’t manage its email backups despite a clear legal requirement to do so under the Presidential Records Act?

The StorageMojo take
Gewirtz recommends that a professional, non-partisan IT organization be detailed with the job of protecting and archiving all White House email communications. There are many groups with the ability and the motive to snoop White House email going out over the public Internet. That has to stop.

Making a single entity responsible, as the Secret Service is for Presidential safety, is the best way to ensure that vital public records are protected. It will also help remind White House officials that they are accountable to the people of the United States.

Comments welcome, as always. BTW, Congress also needs to clean up its data protection act. It is less urgent thant the White House, but just as important.

Update: As luck would have it the New York Times reports another Bush attack on America’s right to know. After passing Congress unanimously he’s gutting the latest freedom-of-information law in the budget. A new high in bipartisanship! Less than a year to go!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kevin Burton February 7, 2008 at 1:31 am

I just blogged about this the other day:

http://feedblog.org/2008/02/06/doesnt-the-nsa-have-backups-of-whitehouse-emails/

It’s a bit of the fox guarding the hen house.

The Whitehouse is REQUIRED BY LAW to maintain these emails. Of course they’ve broken dozens of laws while in power – what’s one more?

Heck, they know Congress isn’t going to do anything about it!

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