White House Official Tells Judge: Searching for Missing Emails Too Much Work
by Jason Leopold / March 24th, 2008
The White House’s chief information officer said the Bush administration should not be compelled to search for millions of emails on individual computers and hard drives that may have been lost between 2003 and 2005 because it would be too expensive and require hundreds of hours of work, according to a filing the White House made with a federal court late Friday.
Friday’s court filing by the White House came in response to an order issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola last week demanding that the White House show cause why it should not be ordered to create and preserve a “forensic copy” of emails from individual hard drives. Facciola entered the order in part because the White House admitted that it did not preserve back-up tapes prior to October 2003.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and George Washington University’s National Security Archive sued the Bush administration last year alleging the White House violated the Presidential Records Act by not archiving emails sent and received between 2003 and 2005.
In documents filed with Faciolla Friday, Theresa Payton, the chief information officer at the White House Office of Administration, said the White House routinely destroyed its hard drives every three years “in order to run updated software, reduce ongoing maintenance, and enhance security assurance. So its unlikely that any lost emails would be retrieved anyway.
“When workstations are at the end of their lifecycle and retired… under the refresh program, the hard drives are generally sent offsite to another government entity for physical destruction in accordance with Department of Defense guidelines,” states Payton’s sworn affidavit filed with Facciola late Friday.
“And even if some older computer workstations were in use, finding them and copying their hard drives with the hope that the residual data contains relevant e-mail information would create an ‘awfully expensive needle to justify searching a haystack,’” a separate court filing the White House made Friday says.
“Even if computer workstations used during the relevant time period are identifiable and locatable, making “forensic copies” (as that term is defined by the Court) of the workstations that may or may not contain residual data of emails would impose a significant burden on OA,” added Payton’s affidavit. “As I understand it, an Order requiring defendants to make a copy of all active data on workstations containing profiles from the relevant time period would require hundreds of hours of work by… staff and management personnel. Such an effort would inevitably divert significant resources from the [Office of the Chief Administration Officer] functions and projects relating to core administration operations. The precise duration of the procurement process, as well as costs associated with that process, are not presently knowable, but they must be expected to be substantial given the sensitivity and significance of such a project.”
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