Monday, 6 April 2015

There Will Be No Texts From Hillary In The State Department’s Document Release

But it’s not just her, either. The State Department doesn’t archive the texts that government aides send, and the federal records agency says they aren’t aware of any department that automatically collects them for record-keeping purposes.

The State Department is preparing to release Hillary Clinton’s correspondence from her four years in the administration. Those records total more than 30,000 emails, but will not include communications from another medium: text message.

Clinton turned over the cache of emails in response to a State Department request late last year that former secretaries make their official “correspondence, communications, and documentation” available for record-keeping.
Andrew Burton / Getty
It’s not clear if Clinton — who has said she exclusively used one phone, a personal device, for State business — sent any work-related text messages during her tenure. (A spokesman for Clinton declined to comment for this story.)

But even if Clinton had sent texts from a State-issued phone, those messages would not have been automatically preserved as part of the public record.

The National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, considers official correspondence by text message of any kind, including iMessage and Blackberry Messenger, to be public record. (The agency defines records as “machine-readable materials” to or from an official “in connection with the transaction of public business.”)

But NARA officials said they were not aware of a single government agency with a record-keeping system in place that automatically archives text messages.

The State Department, an official there confirmed, currently has no method through which to collect text or non-email messages. Officials who wish to submit their text messages as official records may do so — on a strictly volunteer basis.

The gap in the public record is the latest example of the sluggish pace at which the federal government has moved to keep records-keeping practices in step with changing methods of communication.

It was only this year that the State Department install a system to automatically archive official emails sent to and from Secretary John Kerry and other top officials.

“The policies on retaining all forms of electronic communications at the State Department have evolved in recent years, and they will continue to as we work to employ new technologies into the way our personnel carry out their jobs on a daily basis,” the State Department official said.

The official added that, in line with their previous statements made by the State Department on record-keeping practices, the onus falls on individual employees to properly maintain electronic messages that could be considered official records.

In October of 2014, the department asked former secretaries of state to hand over copies of any federal records they may have in possession in order to comply with amendments made in recent years to national records keeping practices.

While the letter referred broadly to “correspondence, communications, and documentation,” there was explicit language emphasizing the use of personal email to conduct government business. Other forms of electronic communication, including text messaging, were not referred to by name.

The State Department asked the Office of Inspector General last week to review its records management practices and provide recommendations on how to comply with current federal records keeping laws.

The plan to release Clinton’s 30,000 emails was prompted by a revelation early last month that the former secretary of state used a personal account, registered to the domain name, “clintonemail.com,” to conduct official business.

That address, hosted on a private server, came to light amid a House select committee’s investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.

A subpoena by the committee, issued to Clinton last month, included a request for all of her communications related to Libya — including emails, texts, and message attachments, according to a spokesperson for the chair of the committee, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy.

Late last month, Gowdy announced that in response to the subpoena, Clinton had turned over only documents she’d already given the committee.
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