In an Onion-esque story almosty too unbelievable to be real, IB Times reports, in a memo obtained by Capital New York, Cuomo officials announced that mass purging of email records is beginning across several state government agencies. The timing of the announcement, which followed through on a 2013 proposal, is worth noting: The large-scale destruction of state documents will be happening in the middle of a sprawling federal investigation of public corruption in Albany.
Many probably felt relief in thinking that such records are now often digitized and therefore not at risk of being accidentally incinerated. Yet as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is showing this week, many records are vulnerable to another form of destruction: deliberate deletion.
The Cuomo administration has now fully implemented a policy of automatically deleting emails of rank-and-file state workers that are more than three months old, resulting in an effective purge of thousands of messages in recent days.
According to memos obtained by Capital, mass deletions began Monday at several state agencies after officials finished consolidating 27 separate email platforms to a single, cloud-based system called Office 365. It lets I.T. administrators purge any older messages, and can be set up to do so each day.
But more than a dozen advocacy organizations—including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, New York Civil Liberties Union and Sunlight Foundation, as well as New York-based good government groups—sent a letter to the governor late last month, arguing his policy was technologically unnecessary and out of step with the federal government, which saves emails from rank-and-file employees for seven years.
“In this era, government runs on email, and access to email and electronic records has become a cornerstone of public transparency. Our groups are very concerned that the administration’s June 2013 policy of using centralized software to automatically delete state employee emails after 90 days is resulting in the destruction of emails that are considered public records under New York’s Freedom of Information Law,” wrote the groups, which were organized by Reinvent Albany. “This policy was adopted without public notice or comment. Furthermore, we are extremely concerned that the inevitable destruction of email records under your 90-day automatic deletion policy directly undermines other public accountability laws like the False Claims Act.”
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IB Times goes on to note that Cuomo’s move to purge state emails follows a similar move he made as state Attorney General.
International Business Times confirmed that in 2007, he put in place a mass deletion policy for emails in the New York Attorney General’s office that were more than 90 days old, making it difficult for the public to know how -- or whether -- his office investigated bank fraud in the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2008. In the Cuomo administration’s announcement this week, the governor's chief information officer, Maggie Miller, justified the new email purge as a cost-saving measure aimed at “making government work better.”
Melanie Sloan, a former Clinton Justice Department official, said the timing of the move raises significant legal questions.
“This is potentially obstruction of justice,” she told IBTimes. “The only reason that the government destroys records is so no one can question what it is doing, and no one can unearth information about improper conduct. There’s no reason for New York not to preserve this information.”
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Is anyone really surprised?