Amid incidents of data breaches, yet another headline-grabbing story demonstrates the immediate relevance of information governance (IG). This week’s breaking story that Hillary Clinton appears to have used only private email to conduct official business during her time as secretary of state underscores the need for better IG policies and more effective use of available technologies with respect to managing emails both in the public and private sectors.
Coverage of the Clinton email story has continued. IGI Co-Chair and former Director of Litigation for the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Jason R. Baron, has been tapped by numerous news outlets to provide his unique insights into these revelations.
On March 3rd, Baron was interviewed on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. Of the recent Clinton email story, he
remarked, “It is extremely unusual for a high level official to solely use a personal email account for their entire time in office in an agency.”
Baron commented that there are reasons why officials might want to use personal email systems from time to time—ease of use and efficiency when working in a fast-paced work environment, for example, but went on to add:
“But the fact that it is understandable and that we live in a fast paced world and that we need to communicate doesn’t change the fact that officials that are in the position of the secretary of state, and frankly all federal employees, are doing the nation’s business. They are held to be accountable. The citizens have the right to ask in Freedom of Information Act Requests for records responsive to those requests. Congress has the right to ask for records that are created or received as a matter of public business.”
Watch the full MSNBC interview, here.
Baron was also interviewed on Federal News Radio about the Clinton email story. Again, he described the apparent sole use by Clinton of private email to conduct official business as surprising and “highly unusual.” According to Baron, a key concern is that the emails are likely to contain historically interesting documents that should be preserved and that use of private email instead of official accounts provides little assurance that the records will find their way into those officials systems. Baron also notes that the practice raises numerous other concerns, too.
“It raises a number of questions including the security of those communications, whether they are classified or not, and ultimately whether the agency involved could meet its FOIA obligations, even apart from the fact that the historical record is rendered incomplete,” remarked Baron.
Listen to the full Federal News Radio program, here. Coverage continued last night, and Baron was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered. Listen to his remarks below.
But the Clinton email story raises bigger issues about government (and private sector) management of emails beyond security concerns and an incomplete historical record. As one New York Times op-ed written by two professors of history points out, even if Clinton had used official systems and the record had been fully preserved, the contents might still be as good as lost. The editorial, “What Hillary Clinton’s Emails Really Reveal,” discusses the staggering rate at which the government is currently producing records, including emails. The piece notes that the public won’t be able to access those records unless they are able to be both preserved and processed, and the system is currently overwhelmed.
“According to the nonpartisan Public Interest Declassification Board, a single intelligence agency is producing a petabyte of classified data every 18 months, or the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer file cabinets. The National Archives estimates that, without new technology to accelerate the process, that information would take two million employees a year to review for declassification. Instead, there are just 41 archivists working in College Park, Md., to review records from across the entire federal government — one page at a time.”-Matthew Connelly & Richard H. Immerman, “What Hillary Clinton’s Emails Really Reveal”
Read the full editorial, here.
The breaking Clinton email story and the coverage and commentary it has generated raise the importance of managing our emails better. Prior to the story’s breaking, an IGI webinar with Charter Supporter, OpenText, was slated to discuss these very issues. During “What You Can Learn from the U.S. Federal Government’s ‘Capstone’ Strategy to Solve Your Email Governance Headaches,” held March 3, 2015, a panel of experts discussed the government’s “Capstone” approach for preserving government records found in email as well as the Clinton email revelations.
“We can see from today’s events that the email problem has not been solved at all. We have been living with email communications since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s especially in the Federal government and elsewhere in the world. With network systems after 1995, it has become ubiquitous as a means of communication, and yet, we have been struggling in both the public sector and the private sector to sort of get our arms around the email problem. It has only grown in volume. We all get hundreds of emails a day, and the management of that is vexing. We all feel overwhelmed both in our professional lives and in our personal lives,” said Baron, one of the webinar panelists.
The webinar discussed that early approaches to managing email, like mailbox quotas or arbitrary deletion schedules have led to numerous problems, including premature or accidental deletion, problematic employee work-arounds, and labor-intensive, manual classification. The Capstone approach, developed by NARA to help federal agencies comply with the Managing Government Records Directive, is an attempt to relieve much of the burden on end-users by automatically preserving the accounts of key officials (and others as appropriate) as official records. Under the application of the Capstone approach, as the head of a department, Secretary Clinton’s emails would have been slated for automatic preservation as part of the historical record of the first Obama Administration and would have been more accessible to pending Freedom of Information Act requests.
The webinar discussion shows, however, that Capstone is intended to be just an important starting point for effective email governance. The Capstone approach alone can be both over and under-inclusive. Not every email in a “Capstone” account is legitimately a “permanent record” requiring preservation, and some would-be permanent records in non-Capstone accounts can be missed. However, Baron emphasized that Capstone always has been intended as an “interim solution to a future state,” that would include the use of software auto-classification solutions to more effectively classify emails. “It is incumbent on agencies to view Capstone as a [very much needed] bridge where the capture elements under NARA policy are [admittedly] somewhat simplistic and somewhat large bucket in nature,” observed Baron.
The webinar discusses recent advances in auto-classification, for example, allowing computers to be trained to identify and classify records. This would allow for a much more granular, less labor-intensive application of records retention requirements and classification rules, as well as review of more email accounts and documents beyond email. Effective application of these technologies could help to address both long-term preservation issues, as well as ensure that those records are appropriately classified, making them more accessible as the official historical record of our nation.
Log into our community site to watch this timely webinar, today.