Records Management

Clinton's printed emails a headache for archivists

Shutterstock image (by Pavel Ignatov): digital email icon.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered copies of 55,000 pages of emails from her personal email system to the State Department in printed form in "quite a few boxes," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in her March 9 press briefing.

This small detail in the larger story points to one of a problematic issue in records management – the use of the "print-to-file" methodology of records capture. Printed emails aren't searchable and don't retain all of the associated metadata. They also aren't necessarily threaded or nested in a way that gives a chronological account of an ongoing email exchange. These factors make printed emails difficult for archivists to use.

The Obama administration sought to fix this print-to-file problem in 2012 with a policy requiring that all email records be retained in electronic format by the end of 2016. This update, while it occurred before the end of Clinton's tenure as secretary of State, did not apply to her emails.

The recent cluster of email retention policies developed by the White House, the National Archive and Records Administration, and Congress either were released after Clinton left the State Department, or aren't due to take effect for several years.

President Barack Obama sent emails to Clinton at her address, but said he didn’t know it was a private domain until the story broke in the media.

"The president was not aware of the fact that this was a personal email server, and that this was the email address she was using exclusively for all her business. The president was not aware of that until that had been more widely reported," White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters in his March 9 briefing.

Policy on use of personal email accounts has been a work in progress throughout the Obama administration. But since 2009, NARA regulations have stated that "agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system." This policy was codified into law and sharpened with the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014.

It is not clear whether Clinton received records training while she was heading the State Department. A NARA spokesperson told FCW that "agency records management programs are expected to provide training to everyone within their agency, including the agency head and staff. However, this is done at the discretion of the agency."

According to State Department officials, a review of the printed documents has yielded 300 emails that pertain to a request for records made by the House Select Committee investigating the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A review of the emails for public release is ongoing.

"I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible," Clinton tweeted on March 4.

Psaki said that process could take "several months," adding that she "would not anticipate release page-by page." She added that while there was no update on whether a security review of Clinton's system had been conducted by State Department IT personnel, "we don't have any reason to believe it was hacked."

This, of course, is in stark contrast to the State Department's own email system, which was the target of a successful hack last November. During that attack, the State Department's press office resorted to a Gmail account to communicate with reporters.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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