Magistrate recommends court order to preserve White House e-mail messages

A federal magistrate recommended Friday that a federal court issue a temporary restraining order to ensure that White House officials preserve all media thought to contain backup copies of millions of e-mail messages — the subject of ongoing litigation.

A government watchdog group requested the injunction last week in support of its lawsuit alleging that the government did not meet its obligations in adequately protecting e-mail messages since 2003. A judge will now decide whether to issue the order after weighing the recommendations and any objections from the government.

A complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleges that the government failed to “recover, restore and preserve certain electronic communications created and/or received within the White House” in violation of the Presidential Records Act and/or the Federal Records Act. The defendants are the Executive Office of the President, the White House’s Office of Administration, and the National Archives and Records Administration.

The suggestion comes after an Oct. 17 hearing in which the government said that a court order was unnecessary because it was already preserving all of the relevant backup copies that were in its custody at the time the lawsuit was filed. Instead, the government argued, the administration should issue a declaration from an authorized official promising to preserve all backup media in its possession.

However, in his recommendation to the U.S. District Court judge, the magistrate who heard the testimony agreed with CREW’s argument that a declaration did not protect the backup media from potential destruction to the extent that a court order, which is punishable by contempt charges, does.

The White House has 10 days to file an objection to the recommendation before the judge makes a decision.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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