As Katie reported earlier this morning, Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Select Committee on Benghazi, will probably ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton–and her email providers–about those electronic communications in the coming days–and it may take more than one visit. Now, while this might not be a blatant violation of the Federal Records Act, it does bring questions about transparency and accountability; things that Clinton she said was a model for and wanted those characteristics implemented in Washington during the 2008 Democratic primaries (via the Hill):
“What she did was not technically illegal,” said Patrice McDermott, a former National Archives staffer and the head of the Open The Government coalition, a transparency group.
However, “it was highly inappropriate and it was inappropriate for the State Department to let this happen,” she said.
The New York Times on Monday reported that Clinton did not use an official government email account while serving in Obama’s Cabinet, nor did she back up the messages to a government server.
John Wonderlich, the policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, agreed that the practice “seems like it’s not unlawful, which suggests to me that we’re in pretty serious need of a legal reform.”
“When the secretary of State of the United States is using personal email exclusively, that suggests a pretty serious public accountability program,” he added.
Also, it seems the server that Clinton used for her personal email address was based in her family’s home in Chappaqua, New York. This location actually gives her extra legal protections from government and private subpoenas from criminal, civil or administrative cases since her lawyers could object, according to the Associated Press. The publication also noted that the Secret Service (and/or the Diplomatic Security Service who are responsible for the Secretary of State’s security) guarded the residence, so no fear of theft or physical hacking. Yet, there still was a huge risk for a cyber security breach [emphasis mine]:
The computer server that transmitted and received Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails — on a private account she used exclusively for official business when she was secretary of state — traced back to an Internet service registered to her family's home in Chappaqua, New York, according to Internet records reviewed by The Associated Press.
The highly unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official physically running her own email would have given Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, impressive control over limiting access to her message archives. It also would distinguish Clinton's secretive email practices as far more sophisticated than some politicians, including Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, who were caught conducting official business using free email services operated by Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.
Most Internet users rely on professional outside companies, such as Google Inc. or their own employers, for the behind-the-scenes complexities of managing their email communications. Government employees generally use servers run by federal agencies where they work.
Operating her own server would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails. And since the Secret Service was guarding Clinton's home, an email server there would have been well protected from theft or a physical hacking.
But homemade email servers are generally not as reliable, secure from hackers or protected from fires or floods as those in commercial data centers. Those professional facilities provide monitoring for viruses or hacking attempts, regulated temperatures, off-site backups, generators in case of power outages, fire-suppression systems and redundant communications lines.
It’s this abject disregard for the values of government openness and transparency that were touted by Clinton in prior years that will not make this story go away any time soon. And it shouldn’t.