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