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Labor Dept. Wanted $1M For E-mail Addresses of Political Appointees

timothy posted about a year ago | from the put-a-price-on-their-heads dept.

Communications 154

Virtucon writes with this snippet from an Associated Press story as carried by TwinCities.com: "'The AP asked for the addresses following last year's disclosures that the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had used separate email accounts at work. The practice is separate from officials who use personal, non-government email accounts for work, which generally is discouraged—but often happens anyway—due to laws requiring that most federal records be preserved. The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees' email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.' The reason for the $1 million dollar request was to do research including going to backup tapes. Some of the information has been turned over to AP but it still seems that the government just can't get their hands on e-mail addresses for their own people."

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Time for an amendment for FOIA (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43904821)

We need to cap, or eliminatee, fees charged to citizens seeking information from the government. Hell, they already paid for the information's creation via taxes anyway.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (2)

larry bagina (561269) | about a year ago | (#43904951)

They were violating their own regulation by charging a news organization. What good is another law if they'll just ignore it? That's the problem with laws limiting the government -- the government enforces them (ha) and there usually isn't a penalty for violating them. At that point, it's not a law it's a suggestion.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (4, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43905029)

They were violating their own regulation by charging a news organization.

Why should a "news organization" be treated any differently than anyone else? Last time I read the Constitution, it appeared to apply to everyone equally, not just a select list of government approved organizations.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905149)

Yeah, i have one of them facebooks and am therefor a news organization.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#43905893)

They were violating their own regulation by charging a news organization.

Why should a "news organization" be treated any differently than anyone else? Last time I read the Constitution, it appeared to apply to everyone equally, not just a select list of government approved organizations.

You skipped over the inconvenient part in his post: "They were violating their own regulation..."

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905023)

It is legally capped for news organizations, according to other MainStreamMedia stories. The Federal Government Agency ignored the law. Big Surprise from the Obama Administration.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905275)

It is legally capped for news organizations, according to other MainStreamMedia stories. The Federal Government Agency ignored the law.

The government isn't supposed to have the power to declare who gets to be protected by the Constitution and who doesn't. The Freedom of the Press is supposed to apply equally to all, not just give preferential treatment to government sanctioned "news organizations".

Big Surprise from the Obama Administration.

That's right, those loopholes are for Whites Only.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905609)

That's right, those loopholes are for Whites Only.

No, they are for progressives of all colors.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (4, Insightful)

ttucker (2884057) | about a year ago | (#43906475)

Big Surprise from the Obama Administration.

That's right, those loopholes are for Whites Only.

No, they apply for all Chicago scofflaws and thugs.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#43905039)

We need to cap, or eliminatee, fees charged to citizens seeking information from the government. Hell, they already paid for the information's creation via taxes anyway.

you don't need a new law as such, you need a defined penalty for ignoring the current one. like, if they had to pay penalties to AP for taking so long and being so dickheads about it(a fine that would be from government to that same government wouldn't be much of a fine!).

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (2)

afidel (530433) | about a year ago | (#43905575)

And the fine should be paid out of a pool from the salary of the top N officials in the non-compliant department.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (4, Insightful)

Dishevel (1105119) | about a year ago | (#43905589)

How exactly would a fine help.
I am "Government Agency"
I do bad things.
Someone wants info on bad things I do.
I delay. Then I charge. Then I delay more.
Peons sue me to pay a fine to them.
I delay.
I delay more.
I pay fine from my budget that comes from the peons.
Many peons give money through me to 1 peon.
Next year I include these costs in my budget.
I now control more money.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (2)

ideonexus (1257332) | about a year ago | (#43905907)

I've personally run into this problem on a couple of occasions when making FOI requests. Once I requested court transcripts from a case that I wanted to provide to the local newspaper as evidence of an incredibly incompetent prosecutor, but the county courthouse wanted thousands of dollars to copy the transcripts and would not allow me to simply come down and copy them myself. I ran into a similar problem with the Department of Transportation when trying to build a database of VIN numbers for a used car sales site 14 years ago. They had no electronic records and only companies with huge pockets could afford to send people down to photocopy the new VINs every month (stack of papers the size of several telephone books) and ship them off to India for data entry. It basically killed our business model. The first example felt like a local court playing CYA, while the second was DOT simply having no incentive to make its data accessible benefiting larger corporations who could throw money at it.

I do feel it's getting better though. Things like data.gov [data.gov] and the Open Data Initiative [whitehouse.gov] are things we should be applauding, because there are some incredibly useful datasets that we the taxpayers have funded and now have access to. When things happen like this story of the AP being effectively blocked from FOIA via a bureaucratic maneuver, we should be outraged, but let's not forget the progress we're making and let our cynicism override the truth that we can change the system.

Re:Time for an amendment for FOIA (4, Insightful)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | about a year ago | (#43906507)

... but the county courthouse wanted thousands of dollars to copy the transcripts and would not allow me to simply come down and copy them myself.

I should hope not. I don't want official transcripts to be handled by any random member of the community - they could be damaged or destroyed that way, maliciously or otherwise. Yes, the person doing that might be charged after the fact, but the documentation is still gone. So I'm glad they didn't hand you official government documents to dick around with however you wanted to. And, in fact, I'm not sorry that they wanted to charge you for the extra work they had to go to for you - your fellow citizens don't need to pay for your particular hobby horse.

Besides, if the newspaper were seriously interested in your story, they would have submitted the FOIA request themselves (and paid for it). The sad truth is that reporters get "leads" from people with axes to grind all the time and the best way to deal with them is to say "Docs or it didn't happen". Unless you can present a more compelling story, you're just another nut with an agenda.

Finally, as for the DOT "killing your business model", it's not the government's job to provide extra services to make your business succeed. You should have known about the data processing methods and their associated costs involved before you started the business. If the only people who wanted the data available were folks (like you) hoping to profit by free-riding on special work (i.e., computer system development) that they wanted done by the government, I see no reason that your fellow taxpayers should pay for your hand out.

Incompetence (0)

captaindomon (870655) | about a year ago | (#43904863)

It's not malice, it's incompetence. Having worked in several large organizations, I'm not surprised that it would be difficult to find a complete list of personal email addresses for people that probably don't even work there anymore.

Re:Incompetence (3, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#43904899)

The problem with Hanlon's razor is no one ever seems to believe it when it goes up against their conspiracy theories. It's such a helpful rule for separating conspiracy theories from reasonable assertions. Maybe Hanlon was a member of the Illuminati, or something.

Re:Incompetence (4, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#43904933)

And the IRS was not politically targeting conservative groups.

Funny how people are so quick to admit they are idiots when they are caught doing something they shouldn't be doing.

Nobody's buying it.

Re:Incompetence (1, Informative)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#43905855)

E-mail Scandal at the EPA - The Obama administration embraces secrecy and stonewalling [nationalreview.com] .

Who is 'Richard Windsor'? [nationalreview.com]

In The Liberal War on on Transparency, published by Threshold Editions last month, I revealed the existence of a series of black, or “alias” email accounts used by EPA administrators. These were actively instituted by none other than Carol Browner, who designed her own secret address, for an account that I also learned was set to “auto-delete”.

You remember Ms. Browner? She’s the lady who suddenly ordered her computer hard drive be reformatted and backup tapes be erased, just hours after a federal court issued a “preserve” order that her lawyers at the Clinton Justice Department insisted they hadn’t yet told her about? She’s the one who said it didn’t matter because she didn’t use her computer for email anyway? Yes, that one. . . more [nationalreview.com]

Re:Incompetence (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43904979)

I disagree.

The only reason I can think of to have a secret email address is to try to skirt any paper trail and FOIA requests.

If people are conducting their official business in secret email accounts, it's hard NOT to think the sole motivation is to fly under the radar. If at the end you provide the 'official' account (which has nothing interesting in it), you can claim nothing happened.

These people already *had* official accounts, why would they need a second, undocumented email address? This stinks of having the official account to do mundane things, and the secret account to do all of the other stuff.

In this case, I'm going to assume malice -- since it actually had the effect of people inadequately responding to FOIA requests, because all of the good stuff was buried in a second account nobody knew about.

Re:Incompetence (5, Insightful)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year ago | (#43905083)

Ditto. It is malice to obfuscate the email system.

But, more important, these email addresses aren't really 'secret'. They were presumably used, so those who needed/wanted to use them knew them. This is just an undisclosed system. FOIA requires disclosure. The cost of uncovering a surreptitious system should not be borne by the requester.

And truly, if the agency is claiming they cannot determine the addresses of their email system(s), be they acknowledged or surreptitious, perhaps they need to hire in some contractors to fix that for them. Like the FBI. It is illegal, you know.

Re:Incompetence (1, Flamebait)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43905131)

These people already *had* official accounts, why would they need a second, undocumented email address?

So they could could engage in private conversations, and feel free to express their true opinions. Eliminating all privacy for public employees might seem like a great idea at first, but it is likely to engender a culture where people toe the official line, and are afraid to report problems or concerns because their comments might later be misconstrued by a journalist or lawyer that is either ignorant or unconcerned about the context.

Re:Incompetence (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43905235)

So they could could engage in private conversations, and feel free to express their true opinions.

Except laws already say that all of this stuff needs to be recorded.

There is no private here. If you're doing Official Government Business, you have to comply with the law. The law says that any and all communications you do are covered under a FOIA request.

Setting up a second email account for the same person bypasses the whole process, and then you get a case like this where they have no idea if they've complied with the request or not, because nobody knew about the email account.

their comments might later be misconstrued by a journalist or lawyer that is either ignorant or unconcerned about the context

And if you hide half of the context, how would anybody ever take then in context??

Sorry, but I don't see any situation in which this is beneficial to anybody except for a bunch of political appointees trying to cover their asses, or possibly cover up questionable actions.

Re:Incompetence (2)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43905555)

No. You're wrong. Actually, you're assumption is wrong.

They set up second e-mail addresses because as public figures, their well-known e-mail addresses are flooded with crap from everyone and their dog who thinks it is neat to directly e-mail a Presidential appointee. They work for the PEOPLE, don't you know. The second address is used to do actual work, not bypass any process.

Those second addresses are fully subject to FOIA and it was not suggested in the article that they were "secret" -- just "non-disclosed".

If you read the article the costs -- not allowable and quickly rescinded -- we do have people dig thru a couple of years of backup tapes to make sure everything from former employees was also captured.

Take a deep breath and calm down. There is plenty of questionable crap going on in government, so there is no need to make up more.

Re:Incompetence (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#43905963)

The second address is used to do actual work, not bypass any process.

Your first quote applies:

No. You're wrong. Actually, you're assumption is wrong.

E-mail Scandal at the EPA - The Obama administration embraces secrecy and stonewalling [nationalreview.com] .

Re:Incompetence (1)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43906067)

My mistake. I thought this discussion was specifically about the DOJ stupidly requesting $1+ million from AP for FOIA requests and "private" e-mail addresses.

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20130604/DA6MPFHG2.html [myway.com]

You've dug up an article from January. We're now in June. Yes, *that* instance was quite probably criminal. What is being reported NOW is something totally different.

Re:Incompetence (2)

moeinvt (851793) | about a year ago | (#43906015)

From the article, a government employee named "Lisa Jackson" set up a separate ID with the alias "Richard Windsor" who people assumed was a unique individual.
I think that dismantles your argument about having one public facing e-mail address for crap and a private one for work. You're not going to get much work done if everyone in the organization is using different names for different things.

Re:Incompetence (1)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43906093)

Not really. The mention of "Lisa Jackson" (EPA Administrator) was from an incident in January -- 5 months ago.

This one addresses the DoJ's stupid request for $1+ million from AP to disclose all e-mail addresses and the use of second e-mail addresses by various agencies. None of those indicate anything similar to what Ms. Jackson did at all.

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20130604/DA6MPFHG2.html [myway.com]

Re:Incompetence (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43905835)

So they could could engage in private conversations, and feel free to express their true opinions.

Except laws already say that all of this stuff needs to be recorded.

My point was not about what is legal, but about what makes sense. The law says that all official business has to be done through official channels, which are open to public scrutiny. But the result is that we have less effective government because people avoid expressing themselves openly, and set up illegal side channels. Prior to Watergate, nearly everything that happened in the Oval Office was recorded. The tapes of the meetings and phone calls by JFK and LBJ have been a goldmine for historians. But after Watergate nothing was recorded, because the precedent had been set that the recordings could and would be subpoenaed. So the "victory" for transparent government, led to the opposite.

Re:Incompetence (3, Informative)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#43906383)

I think you have this wrong. There are already ways for government officials that actually need it to get confidential information and candid opinions. This is something different. The point of transparency is to provide information on current government operations so that the public can provide feedback to the government, and so that voters can hold the government accountable. The benefit to historians is ancillary. There is no way now to provide feedback to the JFK and LBJ administrations, they are long gone. There is no way to improve their effectiveness. All that is left is the history. Voters need to be able to act every 1-4 years, depending on the office. The actions at EPA [nationalreview.com] and other agencies clearly undermines providing that information and subverts accountability. Part of the reason this is occurring is that many people currently in government aren't separating there personal views from their government job and are illegitimately using their government position to engage in activism. That at least partially explains why the IRS is now involved in so many scandals for suppressing conservative political groups, conservative religious groups, Jewish groups, pro-life groups, and even adoptive parents. That also explains why they want to hide their tracks.

Re:Incompetence (2)

alexo (9335) | about a year ago | (#43905873)

If you're doing Official Government Business, you have to comply with the law.

Only if there are personal consequences for failing to do so.
Otherwise, compliance is optional.

Re:Incompetence (0)

Bartles (1198017) | about a year ago | (#43905241)

Were you saying that when it was discovered that Sarah Palin used a private email address while she was Governor?

Re:Incompetence (1, Redundant)

hsmith (818216) | about a year ago | (#43905473)

I love this logical fallacy. Because someone is only one sided in this, right? Pathetic.

Re:Incompetence (2, Informative)

Bartles (1198017) | about a year ago | (#43905615)

No, it's because Slashdot leans far to the left in comparison with the country as a whole. Our system (what's left of it) of accountability, fairness, oversight, and rule of law is being systematically dismantled. The NYTimes is ignoring it, people on the left are justifying it, and frankly it scares the hell out of me. And if you had any ability to look objectively at the situation, you'd feel the same.

Re:Incompetence (2, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | about a year ago | (#43905931)

Left? the US doesn't have a left. it has a right and far right.

Re:Incompetence (2)

Bartles (1198017) | about a year ago | (#43906165)

Thanks for reinforcing my point.

Re:Incompetence (2)

Artifakt (700173) | about a year ago | (#43906491)

Your point seems to be that you are the only 'objective' one here and your 'enemies' are biased. The very fact that you think that can be reinforced by others who have no facts, only biases, proves you are wrong. If all the people who disagree with you are offering only unsupported or biased opinions, you should not change your fact based opinion in the slightest. If hsmith ()or me for that matter) has no objective facts, then he has given you no new data to either reinforce or moderate your conclusion. So, was your position reinforced by a non-fact, or are you ignoring a fact that disproves it - which is it?

Re:Incompetence (3)

Dishevel (1105119) | about a year ago | (#43905637)

And here we are.
Its legal because I am a lib and I hate Sarah!

Good argument.

Re:Incompetence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905741)

Sadly, that's what we are hearing here. It's you can read almost every day in the mainstream press...it's OK because they were working for a greater (leftist) cause.

Who was that guy illegally recording Mitch McConnel? He'd do it again he said and most of Slashdot stood up for him.

Can we say PFC Gerald Manning? Slashdot loves him. What he did was illegal, but it was for a greater (leftist) cause.

Re:Incompetence (2)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43905819)

Apple and Oranges. Sarah Palin and staff were using non-State issued e-mail addresses to avoid record retention laws.

The article here talks about STATE-issued e-mail addresses to avoid spam and frivolous e-mail filling up their inbox. No public e-mail addresses were issued, and FOIA requests for e-mail included messages from the multiple addresses.

Re: Incompetence (1)

jmac_the_man (1612215) | about a year ago | (#43906401)

The AP story says that there was only ONE e-mail from a secret account returned by FOIA. The Department is lying, and so are you.

Re:Incompetence (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year ago | (#43905253)

> The only reason I can think of to have a secret email address is to try to skirt any paper trail and
> FOIA requests.

There was a nail, you just hit it on the head. I find it amazing that people get away with this at all, this would have never flown, not once, not for a day, at ANY job I EVER had. I keep my own email, seperate from any job, on purpose. In fact the ONLY work related emails I have ever sent from my personal account have fallen into a couple of very specific categories.

1. Testing the email system or a process that takes in external email.
2. An emergency "I am having a personal emergency and can't access normal communication" notification. (once or twice ever)
3. Messages to myself as quick notes

Using a work email for personal messages is more understandable, though, I still don't get people who use work email as their primary email address, having no personal one that goes with them. Its not as bad, better to waste an insignificant amount of company resources to store and send email than to trust a third party with the privacy of internal emails!

I shudder to think what sort of exposure an organization faces when such a high level person uses an outside email. That anyone would think this is the least bit ok is jaw dropping. There is no way in which using an outside email makes sense as a practice except to hide activities.... ....About the only excuse I would start to accept would be something along the lines of "They provided no access means but an account on a pop3 mailbox with a tiny quota"... or along the lines of "the only way to send official mail was to telnet to the VMS box and use vms mail".... at which point, using hotmail would start looking very acceptable :)

Re:Incompetence (1)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43905699)

Wow, no.

This doesn't have anything to do with a personal account, nor keeping personal/work e-mail separate. It isn't outside e-mail. This is a "everyone and their dog has this e-mail address, so my mailbox is useless -- get me a second one to work internally on" issue.

The information, and mailbox itself is fully subject to FOIA.

Re:Incompetence (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about a year ago | (#43906099)

The information, and mailbox itself is fully subject to FOIA.

Except we just found out it isnt actually subject to FOIA, unless you cough up a pile of $$$$'s (which is just the current excuse not to release the information.)

Re:Incompetence (1)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43906263)

No you didn't. That was one agency, and they rescinded that almost immediately and already provided the information.

That was one whiny little bitch in the storage branch realizing he'd have to do a shitload of work and trying to get out of it without thinking or running it thru General Counsel's office.

Re:Incompetence (1)

SoupGuru (723634) | about a year ago | (#43905347)

Or perhaps they just wanted to get their emails on their smartphone and had to skirt the IT policies by forwarding everything from their business account to their personal account. The they hit "Reply", it comes from their personal account, and next thing you know, business is being conducted through the personal account.

Re:Incompetence (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43905541)

So, in context of your 'explanation' for this, explain how a second government address was used and how it differed from the first one.

Because, if you can access the second government issued email address on your smart phone, you bloody well could have accessed the first one.

See, there is no 'personal account' here. There's a second, government issued (but not published) email address. One which conveniently is difficult to track down to comply with FOIA requests.

Re:Incompetence (2)

SoupGuru (723634) | about a year ago | (#43905567)

Oh boy, it would help if I read tfs, eh?

I'll go hide over here....

Re:Incompetence (1)

Straif (172656) | about a year ago | (#43905623)

That doesn't quite explain how Lisa Jackson used the email of fictitious employee 'Richard Windsor' to conduct official EPA business off book.

Not incompetence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905005)

Incompetence would be if they asked for $1 million but meant to write $100. Maliciousness is when you ask for a hugely inflated figure that you know will never be paid thus defeating a freedom of information ask request.

It doesn't take a million to extract unique email addresses from the mail logs they're required to keep. If they've been sending work email from separate accounts, they'll show up in the list.

Re:Incompetence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905061)

The most transparent administration in history. Another claim to shown to be bullshit, but palatable to the sheep that fall for that type of tripe.

Re:Incompetence (1)

kenh (9056) | about a year ago | (#43905563)

They wanted to pass on to the AP the cost of retrieving the tapes from their off-site storage facility, hire a couple dozen additional workers for a month to pour over the data on the tapes, and other crazy costs.

They are not allowed to pass on those costs, they are only allowed to pass on reasonable copier costs after the first 100 pages.

But hey, that's just the law - no need to sticklers about it!

Make them eat Spam! (2, Insightful)

Steve1952 (651150) | about a year ago | (#43904885)

I'm shocked that top government officials are using secret government email addresses. We should insist that they turn over every email address so that they all have to waste hours each day deleting spam and irrelevant stuff like the rest of us!

Re:Make them eat Spam! (1)

Nickodeimus (1263214) | about a year ago | (#43905055)

My takeaway was that they were using non-government email addresses. Not that they were using secret government addresses.

There is no logical reason for using a non-government address. There is also no good reason for using a secret address when it's very easy to setup both spam filtering devices and transport rules \ mail flow settings on the email server that allow \ disallow certain domains. The ONLY reason for this is attempting to do an end-run around their email regulations and laws so that they won't get busted for whatever they are doing.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43905165)

My takeaway was that they were using non-government email addresses. Not that they were using secret government addresses.

Sadly, no:

The AP decided to publish the secret address for Sebelius -- KGS2(at)hhs.gov -- over the government's objections because the secretary is a high-ranking civil servant who oversees not only major agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services but also the implementation of Obama's signature health care law. Her public email address is Kathleen.Sebelius(at)hhs.gov.

This is a second government email address for the same person, which is a little baffling, and definitely a little shady.

There is no logical reason for using a non-government address. ... The ONLY reason for this is attempting to do an end-run around their email regulations and laws so that they won't get busted for whatever they are doing.

It's the only reason I can think of.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (1, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43905327)

Why is this shady? I bet every senior executive in industry has a public facing email that their staff handles, and then a restricted email address that is disclosed only to people who he works closely with.

It seems to me this smells like the usual partisan bullshit.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43905467)

I bet every senior executive in industry has a public facing email that their staff handles, and then a restricted email address that is disclosed only to people who he works closely with.

Under Sorbanes-Oxley, if a private corporation gets sued, they need to provide *all* relevant emails as part of discovery. That would include any restricted email addresses.

The same kind of things apply to government and the FOIA.

It seems to me this smells like the usual partisan bullshit.

Um, really? Government accountability is a partisan issue?

I don't care what side of the political spectrum you're on -- you have to follow the rules and laws, and this has the smell of being intended to skirt around those. Republican, Democrat, Communist -- just follow the damned rules.

In this case, FOIA requests failed to return the emails in these other addresses, and they didn't know how to find them all.

So, if it isn't just shady behavior, it has the net effect of hiding information because people don't know to go looking there.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (2)

chill (34294) | about a year ago | (#43905769)

In this case, FOIA requests failed to return the emails in these other addresses, and they didn't know how to find them all.

That is not true, according to the article from AP.

Agencies where the AP so far has identified secret addresses, including the Labor Department and HHS, said maintaining non-public email accounts allows senior officials to keep separate their internal messages with agency employees from emails they exchange with the public. They also said public and non-public accounts are always searched in response to official requests and the records are provided as necessary.

Ten agencies have not yet turned over lists of email addresses, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Pentagon; and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Commerce and Agriculture. All have said they are working on a response to the AP.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43906111)

Thank you.

The smell of partisan bullshit gets stronger every day.

Re: Make them eat Spam! (2)

jmac_the_man (1612215) | about a year ago | (#43906473)

The agencies SAY the accounts are subject to FOIA, but the AP went a step further and found that the secret accounts were not having e-mails turned over in response to actual FOIA requests. That is kind of the point TFA.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (1)

Straif (172656) | about a year ago | (#43905705)

Some are official alternate mailboxes, and while sometimes suspect, at least are registered and subject to FOIA requests but not all.

Lisa Jackson's secret email address was 'Richard Windsor', a fictitious employee that was not disclosed on FOIA requests until someone managed to make the connection.

So it's not like you have LJackson@EPA.gov for the public and LJ774@EPA.Gov for private; in these cases you have completely hidden and unregistered aliases which are being used to perform official business and to skirt FOIA requests.

'Richard Windsor' was so hidden that he was actually required to take mandatory courses online (and passed them every year).

Re:Make them eat Spam! (1)

moeinvt (851793) | about a year ago | (#43905843)

It's shady if the separate e-mail addresses are not linked to a specific person. In one instance, a government employee made up an alias which people thought was a unique individual at the agency.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905601)

It's the only reason I can think of.

Then you're not thinking. Dealing with government systems can be a real pain in the ass, so a lot of people tend to go with an outside address just to save themselves some grief each day.

But I'm not sure why people get so worked up over the issue. We don't record phone calls, for example, so if the person really does want to be "off the record" all they have to do is pick up the phone, but that's not considered illegal or dishonest. So I don't really see why using an outside email would be, either.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43905837)

Then you're not thinking. Dealing with government systems can be a real pain in the ass, so a lot of people tend to go with an outside address just to save themselves some grief each day.

Then you have utterly failed to read and understand the article.

These aren't outside addresses -- these are secondary, government issued addresses at the exact same domains as the published ones.

This is not a case of "I will use my own email since the government infrastructure sucks" (which is still technically illegal but harder to find) -- this is setting up a second government email, and not publishing that address.

So, in the absence of any "outside email", you're wrong.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905519)

The ONLY reason for this is attempting to do an end-run around their email regulations and laws so that they won't get busted for whatever they are doing.

Wrong. There is also laziness, incompetence, and plain old not giving a fuck.

I'm guessing by the tone of your post you've never had to deal with a government-run email system. It's a nightmare. Usually the admins are barely competent on paper and less than competent in reality. Spam filters and access controls can often render the email unusable any time you're not at the office. Email retention shortcomings, size limits, and other technical limitations combined with shitty IT staff often result in employees going to an outside solution.
Yes, I'm sure some people use a third party address to avoid the audit and disclosure requirements. But not all of them, and the ones who do are not necessarily doing anything wrong in those emails. You also need to keep in mind that since the official email is on record, which means even a private conversation is now potentially fully public, and it can be very difficult to do business in that situation. So people will often just pick up the telephone where the conversation is not forever recorded, or go to an outside email address where it is also not recorded.

Malice is certainly a possibility, but in most cases it's not relevant.

Re:Make them eat Spam! (0)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#43905091)

You're still getting spam? I consider it a bad month if two spam messages slip through my filter for my personal addresses or one a month for my work address.

Maybe you should stop signing up for every midget mud wrestling site you can find.

If only (1)

transporter_ii (986545) | about a year ago | (#43905099)

If only they had a large database with all of this stuff in it.

Secret or PRIVATE? (4, Insightful)

CMYKjunkie (1594319) | about a year ago | (#43904905)

Setting aside the ridiculous $1M issue, the accounts are called secret, but aren't they simply PRIVATE? That is, they aren't publicly distributed and shared widely, but they aren't "secret" since multiple parties obviously know that they exist. Even my low-budget church has a "Minister@.com" address for the public and a private @.com.

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (1)

CMYKjunkie (1594319) | about a year ago | (#43904925)

**facepalm** My above post should have read minister@"domain".com and "ministersname"@"domain".com

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (3, Informative)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | about a year ago | (#43905139)

Actually, it should have been "minister@example.com" and "ministersname@example.com".

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (1)

moeinvt (851793) | about a year ago | (#43905007)

Does $detiy own .com ? ;-)

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (1)

HCase (533294) | about a year ago | (#43905017)

But doesn't secret sound much more devious and worthy of giving clicks to?

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43905031)

Setting aside the ridiculous $1M issue, the accounts are called secret, but aren't they simply PRIVATE?

No, no they aren't:

"We're talking about an email address, and an email address given to an individual by the government to conduct official business is not private,"

There is no 'private' in this context. This is official government business, and by law it needs to be recorded.

This doesn't pass the smell test. In fact, it fails it utterly.

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#43905069)

No, they are not private addresses.
public officials. they recognized as much, too.

what good would be being required to preserve records if they had another mail that wasn't preserved..

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year ago | (#43905095)

And if the response is that these addresses were also limited to receiving mail from specified senders, well, that's probably good enough to be called illegal also.

Re:Secret or PRIVATE? (0)

fatalwall (873645) | about a year ago | (#43905227)

These "secret" accounts are often using gmail, hotmail, yahoo, ect. They are often free accounts and in violation of laws are having government business discussed over them. If you remember Governor Palin was caught by a hacker who broke into her account and exposed that she was bypassing the legal requirement for a paper trail that the states IT group was obligated to provide when ordered.

The big issue is when you take a goverment job everything you do that pertains to that job must be within the government email system. That includes invites from colleges who were once just your friend as well as communications with any and all potential lobbyists. Its similar to the idea that all police officers should expect and accept to be recorded while they are on duty.

time to delete and purge... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43904953)

This 1m red tape gives them time to delete and purge "abandoned" emails from the private addresses used for government business. According to law, any email older than 6 months on a server (example yahoo or google mail) is considered abandoned and available to investigative groups and agencies without warrant.

Not having inventory of the contact information for federal employees and agents while using "private" addresses hosted on public services owned by private corporations is something that someone should be prosecuted for criminal neglegence. Heads should roll. Instead we get red tape and excuses.

Re:time to delete and purge... (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year ago | (#43905109)

"According to law, any email older than 6 months on a server (example yahoo or google mail) is considered abandoned and available to investigative groups and agencies without warrant."

"investigative groups and agencies' is limited to the Government. By law. Which obviously should be repealed. And probably doesn't cover government servers, and should not cover my corporate servers.

Re:time to delete and purge... (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#43905117)

"According to law, any email older than 6 months on a server (example yahoo or google mail) is considered abandoned and available to investigative groups and agencies without warrant."

So you're saying all of the subfolders for my email account is full of abandoned messages even though it's an actively used account? Are you sure you don't mean email account?

Re:time to delete and purge... (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#43905175)

"According to law, any email older than 6 months on a server (example yahoo or google mail) is considered abandoned and available to investigative groups and agencies without warrant."

So you're saying all of the subfolders for my email account is full of abandoned messages even though it's an actively used account? Are you sure you don't mean email account?

The first one. [wikipedia.org]

Re:time to delete and purge... (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#43905505)

Well, that's good to know. Time to back them up to a DVD and purge them from the mailserver.

This is a whole heap of awesome... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43904955)

You know, there was a time when I would be critical of the government for this kind of thing. But now, the sheer awesomeness of watching headlines like these get the tea partier's shorts all foamy is just completely and absolutely worth it... I love this tactic, whatever it is! (I know the snarksters out there will call it "incompetence" but really, the government is running this psy-op so superbly against these tools. It's brilliant!)

Re:This is a whole heap of awesome... (3, Insightful)

Bartles (1198017) | about a year ago | (#43905261)

Fascist.

Re:This is a whole heap of awesome... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905879)

Fascist

Aww, you're getting your panties all foamy [wikipedia.org] .

What's that billboard say? "Miss me yet?" Bush never left.

And then they destroyed the backup tapes (-1)

HangingChad (677530) | about a year ago | (#43905125)

Oh, wait that was the last administration [wikipedia.org] .

Re:And then they destroyed the backup tapes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905363)

Almost all admins have been in on some shady crap. Wikipedia is unfortunately democrat biased and edited to make sure nothing 'bad' shows up. I can think of at least 3 different items from Clinton that are not documented and at least 2 from Obama that are not. While most of the republican lists are very will vetted and filled out on things that went wrong. It is actually quite glaring in what is missing.

Pretty much if it is religious or political I skip wikipedia. As the bias is amazing with people closely guarding the edits to make sure they stay within their world view.

This is also one of the reasons many are leaving wikipedia. They get tired of edit wars with someone who has nothing better to do than push their 'team'.

Re:And then they destroyed the backup tapes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905799)

Pretty much what you'd expect from the steaming pile of partisan shit that is Wikipedia.

Re:And then they destroyed the backup tapes (3, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#43905475)

One of the primary reasons this sort of shit continues is idiots like you who think there is any difference at all between republicans and democrats. You've been had my friend.

The unexpectedly transparent (2)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#43905183)

President Obama said he was committed to being the most transparent Administration in history. It seems to be coming true, but not in the way votes expected. But it is true, the administration is becoming increasing transparent.

The EPA’s Secret Email Accounts [weeklystandard.com]

Most Transparent Administration Evah is Riddled with Secret Email Addresses [pjmedia.com]

More secret email accounts for Obama’s EPA chief? [theblaze.com]

So, this can be added to the growing list of administration scandals fighting for public attention: Benghazi, IRS suppression of conservative political groups, IRS suppression of orthodox religious groups, IRS suppression of adoption, IRS seizure of health records, exploding costs for healthcare reform, ....

I guess it must be morning wherever the press has been on vacation the last couple of years.

Re:The unexpectedly transparent (1, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43905285)

Yes, the mistake Obama made was not just ignoring FOIA requests like the previous administration did.

Not to mention doing things like outing the wives of reporters writing critical articles.

Re:The unexpectedly transparent (1)

Straif (172656) | about a year ago | (#43905765)

From most reports the current administration has one of the worse records on responding to FOIA request in decades.

Just Google "obama record on foia"

Re:The unexpectedly transparent (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#43906159)

Ugh. You are right.

What a disappointment.

Coming home to roost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905309)

Half a decade of Government-R-Us filling the appointee posts with statists oblivious to the optics of the hate-filled world view trained into their souls... I think the right is going to have a good year in 2014, 17 months from now.

A question; the IRS persecution of "tea party" outfits was either Obama campaign/administration shenanigans or it emerged spontaneously among IRS staff. Which is worse?

Looking forward to the IRS bubble bath [theatlanticwire.com] shots as investigators figure out how these celebrity bureaucrats pissed away $50e6 on "conferences."

Don't doubt for one second the voters won't punish. That's what they use midterms for.

tables were flipped (1)

zeroryoko1974 (2634611) | about a year ago | (#43905381)

Imagine if this was a private corporation that the labor department wanted information from. They would probably already be criminal charges filed and raids by DOJ or FBI

Re:tables were flipped (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905613)

That's what I was thinking. If a New York Bank was playing this game there would be massive protests and investigations. We've gone from a President to a King in a few short years.

wait (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#43905421)

Couldn't they just ask Bradley Manning to get them for him? Oh wait...

WTF? (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about a year ago | (#43905481)

the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had used separate email accounts at work. The practice is separate from officials who use personal, non-government email accounts for work, which generally is discouraged—but often happens anyway—due to laws requiring that most federal records be preserved.

First, I don't understand why a separate email account is needed. But let's say there is a good reason. The way I read this is that it was an official account that was set up within the organization. There is no good reason why this should be anymore difficult to find/access as any other account. Either someone is extremely incompetent, or is trying to hide something. Or both.

If communications legally must be logged then the system also should not allow users to access "personal" accounts. If someone uses a personal account to do business, then that account should immediately become property of the organization. Not just "frowned upon". I've known people who worked in security agencies. They typically had a secure computer and one that was not. If you accidentally plugged a USB device(yours or not) into the secure system it then became classified and property of that department and you just lost it. I don't see why this should be treated any differently. Anyone who is caught trying to circumvent this should have to forfeit the account and be disciplined, or fired as the very least, and possibly criminally charged. I find it baffling that behavior that could get you fired or criminally charged in the private sector is so commonplace and ignored in the government.

I know I'm getting old, but we've come a long way from Lincoln's government of the people, for the people, and by the people. It's becoming pretty obvious that we have a government above the people.

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905657)

The biggest thing I'm confused about is why the general electorate is quiet on this. We have a President that had done some good things but has done some very bad as well... It feels like his core supporters will follow him right into Big Brother if necessary. Have we ever seen a White House so blindly supported by a segment of the population? Are people so easily won over by a scrap and handout here and there while the Constitution is ripped up?

Re:WTF? (1)

mc6809e (214243) | about a year ago | (#43905975)

The biggest thing I'm confused about is why the general electorate is quiet on this. We have a President that had done some good things but has done some very bad as well... It feels like his core supporters will follow him right into Big Brother if necessary. Have we ever seen a White House so blindly supported by a segment of the population? Are people so easily won over by a scrap and handout here and there while the Constitution is ripped up?

Would you oppose a White House that you rely on to give you food, shelter, and medical care if you thought the alternative was hunger, homelessness, and death?

Re:WTF? (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about a year ago | (#43906205)

The biggest thing I'm confused about is why the general electorate is quiet on this.

Most of the popular press isnt reporting it, and even when they do its 30 seconds followed by 2 hours of love for Obama.

Transparency and Accountability (2)

Jodka (520060) | about a year ago | (#43906005)

It could be reasonably argued that government officials hava a legitimate need for both publicly-facing published email addresses and private, unpublished email addresses for inter-governmental communication. Presumably the former would be handled by their staffs for public communication and the latter used for professional communications between government officials.

If that were the issue, there would be no scandal here, merely a difference of opinion between what is good practice. What makes this a scandal is not that the email addresses themselves were secret, but that 1). The practice of maintaining secret email accounts was itself secret 2.) With one single exception the agencies exempted the contents of the secret email accounts from FOI searches. 3) In violation of its own policy agencies sought to charge the AP fee, and quite a hight one.

So this looks like a widespread attempt by government officials to avoid transparency and accountability, not a pragmatic attempt to manage their inboxes efficiently.

     

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