Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

Summary: Governor Barbour's office does not want you to read his official email.

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Image courtesy CBSNews.com. Headline by the author.

Email is becoming an item of hot contention in today's political scene. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is one of 2012's likely GOP Presidential candidates, and one of America's most influential power brokers.

Governor Barbour's office does not want you to read his official email, even though Mississippi's Public Records Act provides for the release of this sort of information to the public.

And that's where I got involved.

First, let me tell you that I kind of like Governor Barbour. He did a pretty good job handling Katrina, and back when he was chairman of the Republican National Committee, he generated very little mockable press, unlike more recent GOP leaders. Barbour has been plagued by racial issues, which may sink his candidacy before it starts.

While I disagree with much of his politics, Barbour is, by all accounts, a competent executive. He's also reasonably far from that uncomfortable lunatic fringe both parties seem to be carrying around, like monkeys on their backs.

In any case, a few weeks ago, Mother Jones decided it wanted to get access to Barbour's email history, and attempted to use the Mississippi Public Records Act as a way in. This did not go well.

The Governor's office put up a smoke screen, claiming the cost to retrieve the Governor's email would start at $53,460 and might cost as much as $200,000.

I've been covered before by Mother Jones regarding my work on the White House email issue during the Bush administration. For the record, sometimes I disagree Mother Jones' politics as well, but we've developed a pleasant professional relationship over the last few years.

Also read in Mother Jones:

Darrell Issa's Software Error

White House Emails and The Case of the Missing BlackBerrys

What Was gwb@whitehouse.gov Really Up To?

When they got the price quote from Governor Barbour's office, Mother Jones asked me for my feedback. I asked for some additional information from the Governor's office about what email system they use (GroupWise), and what they use for archiving (Reload by GWAVA).

Then, I gave them some quick thoughts, which are documented in an article they ran last week: Wanna Read Haley Barbour's Emails?

Old archives unaccounted for

Here are two additional facts that are worthy of note. The first is that the Governor's office apparently has no clue about how emails were archived. This note is from one of Barbour's staffers (I've been given permission to reprint the message, but not the names involved):

We have only been using Reload since about 2008. I am not sure of the application that was used for archiving prior to Reload. The network team that is currently staffed have only used Reload and are not aware of the legacy application. The individuals with that knowledge are no longer with this office.

So here's the thing: Barbour's been in office since January 13, 2004. They have no idea how those emails were archived and it was done by their own people while the current Governor was in office! That's either really fishy or really incompetent.

Attorney review roadblocks

The second interesting claim is this:

IT would still need to retrieve the emails and an attorney would need to review each email for privilege and/or exemption.

This one could be the winner. I haven't dug through every line of Mississippi code, but if they left a loophole requiring attorney review of every message, they could set up a fee structure based on hundreds of dollars an hour.

Of course, politicians aren't the only ones throwing up roadblocks to data recovery. In fact, the whole field of electronic discovery is overwhelmed by issues of data archiving, retrieval, and cost. I recently did a TechRepublic webcast on that topic, and it might be worth exploring.

View at TechRepublic:

How EDiscovery Best Practices Can Protect Your Business And Reduce Risk

We could leave it there, but I have you guys to help me.

Next: Governor Barbour's email challenge »

« Previous: Lawyers, missing archives, and smoke, oh my!

Governor Barbour's email challenge

Most of you are IT professionals. So let's explore a simple question. Let's say, as part of your job, you were asked to retrieve about 30,000 email messages from a currently operating email account? How long would it take you? How much would it cost?

Would it take 832 hours over 20 weeks and cost almost $60,000?

I know. Not enough information. Okay, so here are more facts. The email is on a GroupWise system, which -- among other basic data interchange formats -- has IMAP. So, at the very least, pulling email from an IMAP server to a local email message store should be, from a technical perspective, pretty easy.

Given data transfer times, and assuming the email box isn't chock full of big videos or other crazy attachments, you're probably talking something on the order of 150 to 300 megabytes, less than the size of a single CD-ROM. At basic cable modem speeds, you're talking about 6 to 10 hours of data transfer.

So, okay, you're given the job and the access codes. You spend about a half hour getting caffeine and some cookies, and deciding which local email client you're dumping your emails into. Let's just say Outlook. So, another half hour (max) to set up the accounts, reboot the machine (just for good measure), and then you connect into GroupWise's IMAP interface. You're at about an hour or so.

Depending on how the email is organized, you've got some folders to drag and drop. It could be a long 10 hours, especially if you have to drag, drop, and wait, but still it's a doable job -- and that's assuming you don't buy one of the many email migration programs out there to speed your task. Worst case, you're talking about, what? Maybe two days? Three? Five at the most? Certainly not 20 weeks!

Okay, so let's talk about retrieving archives. Some archives might be hard to retrieve, because no one currently working there knows how the messages were archived. Yeah, good job, that!

More recent messages were archived with a product called Reload by GWAVA. Retrieval of those shouldn't be too difficult, at least according to the company's FAQ. According to the company:

Since this product is keeping a hot backup of your GroupWise system over the course of days or weeks, you simply select the date that you want to recover the message or mailbox. It automatically mounts that Post Office Data. The Administrator or End User points their GroupWise client at the Post Office, select the mail to be recovered, copies to a local archive and then restores it back to their live system.

So, how are we talking 20 weeks? And how are we talking $60,000? Read the Mother Jones article. Read the Clarion Ledger article. Then TalkBack below and let me know what you think.

Topic: Collaboration

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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Talkback

40 comments
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  • only liberals want to spy on personal emails

    and stuck the taxpayer with the bill.
    This is unconstitutional and will increase the deficit!
    Linux Geek
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @Linux Geek

      This is quite possibly the funniest comment I have ever read on ZDNet. That's not a compliment.
      danno78
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @Linux Geek

      [u]http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/03/28/wisconsin_republicans_seek_e_mails_of_critic_of_governor_s_union_policies[/u]
      msalzberg
      • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

        @msalzberg That's an interesting article. Weird, but interesting. Thanks.
        David Gewirtz
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @Linux Geek

      wow, u serious? liberals are the only ones that want to spy on your personal information? give me a break. the people that want to spy on your personal information is anyone who wants an advantage over you, period. Liberal or conservative. don't be nieve.
      KBot
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @Linux Geek
      This is too funny. The Gov is NOT Liberal and like many others wants to spy on your personal emails. The liberals want to see, NOT spy, his Gov emails. Spying would incline sneeking. There is a law here that says that sneeking isn't nessecary. Much like if a cop ask you for your license, he isn't spying on you.
      Since the 1972 act predates his coming into office and their email system, it should have been in the budget and already performed.
      And who wipes out an entire IT department and starts from scratch? Nobody knows who did the archiving before the current system? I am not even in Network Support for this place, but I get all the emails from that department detailing who is involved in what areas. They move around alot between Server, Security, Email, Infrastructure... but I guarantee that you pull one of them out and ask them who did the wireless for the medschool or who did the initial work on the 10 year old medical records system, they can give you 4 or 5 names. Even I can if you give me an hour to go thru my emails I have in archive.
      dbisse@...
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @Linux Geek How many do you truly believe are so ignant as to believe the tripe you spout lg?
      dixonrf
    • They're not personal e-mails

      @Linux Geek
      And given your recent postings, I suspect you'd be a lot less sympathetic if Mr. Barbour were a Democrat.
      John L. Ries
  • re Attorney Review

    (Speaking as an attorney ....)

    It is extremely doubtful that any such statute expressly provides for attorney review. However, executive privilege is a well-established principle in our legal system and the only practical way to determine whether executive privilege applies is to have someone read [b][i]everything[/i][/b].

    Normally such a review would not require an attorney reading every document. Most documents would clearly not be subject to executive privilege, so anyone with general familiarity with the subject could make a determination on those. The ones that are questionable would then be kicked up to a paralegal and the ones that person considered remotely possible for e.p. would be given to an attorney. Realistically, maybe 5-10% would require actual attorney review, and that's probably a high estimate.
    Rick_R
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @Rick_R Wow, Rick, thanks! That's a very appreciated clarification.
      David Gewirtz
      • Overly simplistic view

        @David Gewirtz I can't speak for the Gov's state, but I can tell you about my state. There is no requirement for attorney review. In fact there is no requirement for anyone to review the messages. However...there is a requirement to ensure that private data must be protected and people can and regularly do sue over improper release of data...and they win. So while there is no specific requirement for a review of each message, how do you propose to ensure that the messages do not contain protected data...knowing that your agency can potentially be sued over each and every mistake you make?

        Also, your guess at 150 - 300 MB is way, way, way low. I work for an executive way below the governor and the person I work for has several gigabytes of archived mail (though this person is not an appointee and has been in the position for 12 years). I've seen others with even more. And don't forget the attachments. Those might contain protected data too and how will you verify that.

        So while everyone is all hot and bothered about the governor and his email, don't forget about the people whose privacy you should really be concerned about (i.e. everyone discussed in all those emails and attachments who is NOT the governor).
        cornpie
  • Ask the governor to fix it.

    The governor is the states chief executive. As such he is responsible for making the government infrastructure workable. That would include making the archives accessible when needed. This archive is effectively a locked box. Find some with a key or hire a locksmith. Open the box. It will be much cheaper to hire an IT person than a herd of lawyers when someone files a lawsuit.
    lars626
  • Well...

    Maybe you can't read his e-mails, but he could probably show you his birth certificate.
    rag@...
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @rag@...

      LOL ^5.
      Hallowed are the Ori
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @rag@... If you could read without pictures, you would have already seen the one you question.
      blueskip
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @rag@... awesome :D
      drokkon
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @rag@...

      Um, and who can't show a birth certificate? If you mean Obama, you are wrong. There are birth certificate and birth announcements in the Hawaiian news papers.
      technology@...
  • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

    Huh? Why should the Governor's office know what the IT geeks are up to? I don't know what our corporate IT people use to do their backups. You and Mother Jones need to get your instant gratification joneses under control.
    Vesicant
  • Ugh...

    I had no idea what "MotherJones" was, and clicked through your link.

    It was all I could do to close the page before I threw up.

    How about providing warnings next time you link to something like that?
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • RE: Probable Republican Presidential candidate puts up email smoke screen

      @Hallowed are the Ori

      My sentiments EXACTLY. After seeing their webpage, I remembered receiving a mailing from them a year or two ago begging me to subscribe to their magazine. As if.
      drokkon