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Don't delete that e-mail. It could be illegal.
March 20, 2002 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Don't delete that e-mail. It could be illegal. Why can't this guy delete his e-mail now?
posted by SandeepKrishnamurthy (10 comments total)

Why can't this guy delete his e-mail now?

"amounts to destroying public records"
I thought the article made it quite clear.
posted by HTuttle at 10:56 AM on March 20, 2002

More here.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:00 AM on March 20, 2002

This does raise interesting issues. In my line of work (law), a high percentage of e-mail traffic is of the "conversational" variety -- things that normally would have been discussed over a quick phone call. However, a smaller percentage is more formal -- documents, opinions, etc., that would previously have been reduced to writing. I suspect the governor's e-mail is a lot like that. Since the public records laws don't require transcribing conversations, maybe "conversational" e-mails shouldn't be covered. Actually putting such a rule into practice, however, would open loopholes the size of Texas (or Utah).
posted by pardonyou? at 11:02 AM on March 20, 2002

This is a very intriguing issue. While most e-mails of this nature are related to business the public should be aware of, this brings up interesting ethical questions over the extent that a politician can and should reveal all of his dealings with the public. What kind of privacy rights does a governor or a politican have over his own e-mail? Say that a politician has a casual affair or discusses a personal matter that the public should have no interest in. But say that the e-mail simultaneously dwells upon pivotal political issues. Will a printout of the e-mail be released to the public, Pentagon-style, calling into question the redacted statements (which could be perceived as covering something up)?

Sure, you could appoint someone to watch over the politician's shoulder and release the appropriate e-mail to the public. But then how accountable would this surveyor be, particularly if he's the politician's right-hand man?

The smart politician would certainly use a separate account for his personal dealings. But then any chronic e-mailer knows that there are moments in which account slips over from business to personal and back again.

Since the e-mail has overtaken the letter, since there is considerably more expressed within an e-mail than a letter, particularly for issues that involve immediacy, since even pleadings can be filed with some courts via e-mail, and since a letter serves more as a way of memorializing conversations or prefacing large parcels, it would seem to me that the terms of what a government official is required to reveal should be established at once, if only to ensure that the public has another avenue of accountability for the officials it puts into office.
posted by ed at 11:24 AM on March 20, 2002

Say that a politician has a casual affair or discusses a personal matter that the public should have no interest in. But say that the e-mail simultaneously dwells upon pivotal political issues

But that is true for ANY correspondence. Read through historic Whitehouse letters and you'll see many which do just that. That's up to the writer, just as it always has been.
posted by HTuttle at 11:45 AM on March 20, 2002

since there is considerably more expressed within an e-mail than a letter

Only because you choose to make it so.
posted by HTuttle at 11:47 AM on March 20, 2002

Lets ask Al Gore; He has a lot of experience in this area, besides having invented the internet in the first place.
posted by Mack Twain at 12:44 PM on March 20, 2002

This is exactly why George W. Bush stopped using email of any sort, even personal email, on January 20, 2001. Congress, overeager historians and general rabble-rousers of all political persuasions have managed to steadily erode the privacy of the president over the last few decades. We have now reached that point that if you're the president and you write something down, it will probably get subpoenaed at some point for some reason by a political enemy. Thus your only option is to put as little on paper as possible.

(This is also why Cheney is fighting the GAO, though I know a lot of people here think it's all about oil or Enron or some sort of supposed evil.)
posted by aaron at 12:55 PM on March 20, 2002

Let's bring porn into the discussion!

If one were to send nasty kiddieporn images to a Congresscritter, would that porn then be a public record, and available for anyone that submitted a FOIA request?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:56 PM on March 20, 2002

I'm neither American, nor an expert in its disclosure laws, but logically, the fact that he had received them, volume, intensity level, subject matter description, frequency, etc would be the possible public domain elements of that situation (if indeed the contents of unsolicited, unresponded to incoming mail from the public is P.D). Copies of the email and its attachments would be kept secure by investigation authorities, original instances deleted/destroyed, and the headers used for tracking which, together with the content, would then be used as evidence. Redistribution of thoroughly illegal images would remain thoroughly illegal.

My fav bit of the article: 'She said it wouldn't apply to a governor's e-mail asking a staffer to bring him or her a cup of coffee.'

Coffee by email. That's power.

Wonder if use of instant messaging, forums, comment boxes, irc, etc. will soon come under scrutiny. In the UK there's recently been a big national scandal regarding comments a senior police officer left on the web. I'm surpised something similar is yet to happen to a politician.

'don't empty your cache. it could be illegal.'
posted by Kino at 5:05 AM on March 21, 2002

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