Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bush White House e-mail settlement

News that 22 million lost e-mail messages sent or received by the Bush White House have been recovered and that the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have settled their 2007 lawsuit against the Executive Office of the President (EOP) has been all over the media for the past couple of days.

A lot of the media coverage is focusing on a couple of items in the settlement document. First, for reasons of cost, the White House will focus on recovering e-mails sent or received on select days, not every "missing" e-mail that the Bush White House created. Second, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will take custody of the e-mails and manage them in accordance with the Presidential Records Act, which means that the e-mails won't be disclosed to researchers for years.

However, a quick review of the settlement document itself reveals that, with a handful of exceptions, the media isn't calling attention to a provision that ought to interest anyone who wants to know how the White House does business or how EOP manages its electronic records:
4. Description of Current EOP System: Defendants [EOP and NARA] will provide Plaintiffs [NSA and CREW] with a publicly releasable letter describing in as much detail as possible the current EOP computer system, including its email archiving and backup systems. This document will include a detailed description of the controls in the system that prevent the unauthorized deletion of records.

a. Prior to sending the letter, Defendants will review with Plaintiffs draft(s) of the letter and the Parties will agree upon a final version.

b. Defendants recognize that Plaintiffs intend to release the letter publicly, and Defendants do not object to such a release.

c. Defendants will produce this letter by January 15, 2010.
Although I'm sorry that the EOP and NARA personnel charged with producing this document will likely have to curtail their holiday breaks, I'm looking forward to the end result. It should make for interesting reading.

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