What Could Go Wrong? Cuomo Administration Begins Large-Scale Email Purges: “This is potentially obstruction of justice”

Posted by on Feb 27, 2015 at 9:14 am

Sure, this seems legit.

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.

The 90-day deletion policy was first adopted in June of 2013, but its enforcement to date has been haphazard at best, employees and officials say. News of its implementation has drawn fresh concern from good government groups in both New York and elsewhere, who say automatically deleting emails is unnecessary and could stymie access to public information.

It’s unclear exactly which agencies and employees were most affected by the purge, but according to employees and documents, accounts at the departments of health and economic development as well as the Department of State began new, regular deletions on Monday evening.

Seems to be a helpful practice when you’re trying to hide something from a federal corruption probe.

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.”

Sloan said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is spearheading the Albany probe, could issue a letter to Cuomo ordering him to preserve all documents that could be relevant to the public corruption investigation. In May 2014, Bharara issued such a letter to state legislators. Bharara’s office declined to comment when asked by IBTimes if it had now issued a similar directive to Cuomo.

John Kaehny, the head of a coalition of transparency group called Reinvent Albany, said the purge order may be designed to circumvent obstruction of justice statutes that are designed to prevent deliberate document destruction.

“[The policy] may mean that you could never be accused of obstructing justice or destroying evidence because you could claim that the machine automatically deleted it,” he told IBTimes. “It creates a loophole and opportunity to destroy embarrassing emails.”

The technological mechanics of the Cuomo administration’s email purge remain murky. According to a document from New York’s Office of Information Technology Services, the state’s new Microsoft Office 365 system purges deleted mail after 90 days and makes sure that mail “cannot be recovered.” The document says that all mail — whether manually deleted or not — “will be subject to the 90 day retention policy.”

Maybe they should hire Lois Lerner for further guidance.

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