FOIA Advisor

FOIA: National Security Archives' Nate Jones weighs in on Vox and government emails

FOIA News (2015-16)Kevin SchmidtComment

Against Transparency?

By Nate Jones, Unredacted, Sept. 7, 2016

His argument that “Email isn’t mail” –along with being incorrect– is also not novel.  It is the exact argument made by the Reagan Administration to the National Security Archive as it attempted to delete all all traces of its emails before turning the keys to the White House over to the H.W. Bush Administration in January 1989.  Attempting to justify deletion of the email, the responsible official at NARA told the National Security Archive that federal emails were akin to telephone messages slips, not worthy for preservation.  Fortunately, for all journalists not named Yglesias, U.S. District Court judge Barrington D. Parker rejected this assertion, ruled for the Archive and against Reagan’s acting Attorney General John Bolton (yes, that one), and granted the restraining order that preserved the Reagan Administration’s emails from deletion.  After years of legal battles with both Democratic and Republican administrations, the National Security Archive eventually won the preservation of several hundred thousand White House emails from the Reagan presidency, nearly a half million from the Bush-41 term, 32 million from Clinton, and an estimated 220 million from Bush-43.  Our settlement with the Obama administration ensures that all of his White House emails (along with Blackberry messages) will also be preserved and per the Presidential Records Act, will be available for FOIA requests as early as five years after he leaves office.

So, to be clear, Yglesias’s argument is not a new, provocative idea.  There has been much discussion about the topic, and there is clear law and court precedent that emails (and text messages, and Slack messages, and Gchats) are firmly established federal records. It’s the law of the land.  In fact, the US National Archives is currently completing work to ensure that each and every federal agency has a system in place by December 2016 to  “manage all email records in an accessible electronic format” –so that they can more effectively be preserved and released  in response to FOIA requests.

Read more here.