BAILEY T. STEEN | WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2018
The duty of a free society is to allow people the freedom of information. This rights isn’t just the cries of demanding babies who want their bottle from the government, but entitlements for every human who are endowed with their natural protections. This line of reasoning helped spearhead the movements for free speech and forced government to introduce legislation such as the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) of 1966, along with similar versions of the law adopted across the world.
Imagine if, all of a sudden, these fundamental human rights could so easily be erased by the faultiness of our technology. Where after thousands of years of signing our constitutions with ink, it all amounts to nothing when some tinkering on hard-drives can bleach those principles clean. This is the scary reality proposed earlier this week by the Department Of Justice (DOJ). In rather underreported court filings, the government argued that with just a few “technical glitches”, public bureaucrats were prevented from recording a years worth of government email records that belong to the people, according to a new report that was published by The Daily Beast.
This claim could show that modern transparency, even those required by federal law, is just a joke of a concept.
The report details how Vanessa Brinkmann, the senior counsel for the department’s Office of Information Policy, filed these revelations during a litigation proceeding brought forth by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (otherwise known as CREW). The group is currently suing the DOJ for the anti-Trump text message scandal surrounding the FBI and their former agents Peter Strzok and his then-lover Lisa Page. In a scathing 500-page report from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, there were over 50,000 texts exchanged between the agents, while only a few of them discussed the unfortunate outcome of a Donald Trump presidency. This lead to political moaning on Capital Hill regarding “deep state bias” in the investigation from special counsel Robert Mueller, which Strzok was heading up, as well as the Democrats issuing partisan defences of the FBI as some “ethical” agency for the people.
According to journalist Betsy Woodruff, CREW argue that the department’s decision to share the texts with the media was some “politically motivated effort” to frame the president as being the target of unethical officials within federal law enforcement. His narrative of being the billionaire for the people requires other billionaires to play antagonist, after all. Hence why CREW, through court and FOIA requests, want to scour through the government’s conduct to ensure everything is on the up and up. A simple enough process if it weren’t for the Justice Department admitting their tech just can’t keep up with their human rights.
It’s been reported that since last October, the Trump DOJ has been experiencing a glitch that restricts public officials from searching the government email accounts of a certain select few individuals involved with the release of these texts. Brinkmann, of course, didn’t share details of which officials were restricted from inquiry. She was even unwilling to cooperate with The Gateway Pundit, hardline-conservative media outlet who key in pushing of the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory.
CREW reportedly wanted the emails from all DOJ senior leadership regarding the release. This includes (but is not limited to): the offices of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as well as officials tasked with handling the Office of Legislative Affairs.
“It is pretty troubling to find out well into litigation that DOJ, for whatever reason, had not been searching all accounts, especially when we were only asking for senior leadership at DOJ,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for CREW, who spoke with The Daily Beast. “We’re not saying it was intentional, but it’s certainly problematic for transparency.”
Brinkmann pleaded that the government is trying to hold true with the principle of free information, insisting repeat searches are being conducted, but not everyone is buying the narrative. Not even conservatives. A few of the outlets that reported the story cite Tom Fitton, the head of the right-wing transparency group Judicial Watch, who issued FOIA requests for these emails all the way back in December 2017.
“Did anyone delete emails?” he told The Daily Beast, after receiving a letter with the same glitch excuse. “Were emails deleted from the system before they went back and captured them? It raises questions as to whether the emails were lost. There’s always more that meets the eye in these sorts of issues when it comes to government agencies,” he continued. “And in this case, nearly a year later we found out that the database was incomplete and then they went back and tried to recapture those accounts that had not been taken up. Is there an email gap?”
Or is the most powerful government in the world just running on bad tech?
Fitton, while still pushing a disagreeable anti-government narrative, is correct in his scepticism for big unaccountable entities. TrigTent reported on a similar excuse being used by the National Security Agency (NSA), that notorious government spy branch, who argued last year that large swaths of their surveillance data—which was subpoenaed as evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing — was simply “deleted” in their possession before it could be brought to trial. The government argued that their large facilities throughout the country simply just didn’t have enough hard-drive space for preserving important public info. You know, the very thing that agency uses to justify its own existence… sure, let’s go with that…
Their best argument, which amounts to “whoops, our bad” dialogue and a studio audience laugh track, is that the government doesn’t have the right equipment to ensure our rights are maintained. It’d be one thing if it just took too much man-power to conduct searches through intimidatingly large file cabinets, but it’s another when you leave information on a platform you don’t have sovereignty over. What the hell is a government for if it can’t actually govern over territory they understand without the need for repairmen working for months on end just to compete a task?
This isn’t exclusive to the public sector. Google and Facebook are notorious for handling important data like it’s casino chips to be tossed around the table. That, however, doesn’t excuse incompetence. One sector’s faults, be it by a genuine mistake or duplicity, doesn’t excuse the other acting hand-in-hand. After so many apparent glitches, the people will start to wonder whether this lack of transparency is just nothing more than an intended feature.
Thanks for reading!
Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, designer and film critic residing in the heart of Victoria, Australia. He’s also a proud Putin Puppet™ on occasion.
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Cheers, darlings!! 💋