Court orders White House to preserve e-mail backups

A federal district court judge issued a temporary restraining order today requiring the Bush administration to safeguard backup media files that may contain copies of millions of White House e-mail messages — the subject of ongoing litigation.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, requested the order last month. It and George Washington University’s National Security Archive are suing the Bush administration for allegedly failing to “recover, restore and preserve certain electronic communications created and/or received within the White House.”

The complaint alleges that since 2003 the Bush administration has illegally discarded about 5 million e-mail messages that it was required to keep under records laws. The plaintiffs are demanding that the missing messages be restored using the backup media files and that the administration implement a new “adequate electronic management system.”

The groups’ lawsuits against the Executive Office of the President, the White House’s Office of Administration, and the National Archives and Records Administration have now been consolidated.

CREW filed for the temporary restraining order after the group said it did not receive adequate assurances from the White House that the backups were being protected.

The decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia confirms a magistrate’s earlier recommendation that the order be issued. Under the temporary restraining order, the defendants are required to safeguard all media in their possession as of Nov. 12.

But because the order is not retroactive, it does not clarify what has happened to the backups since 2003, said Meredith Fuchs, the National Security Archive’s general counsel. Concerns that the backups could have been erased in the past four years -- perhaps as part of normal business processes -- coupled with the limited time remaining for the Bush administration prompted the plaintiffs to ask for an expedited discovery process, she said.

The Bush administration formally opposed the early discovery request Nov. 9, she said.

"We will study the Court's order and the magistrate's recommendations," said White House spokesman Blair Jones. "However, the Office of Administration has been taking steps to maintain and preserve backup tapes for the official email system. We have provided assurances to the plaintiffs and to the Court that these steps were being taken. We will continue preserving the tapes in compliance with the Court's order."

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group