The Overwriting Issue - InformationWeek

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1/17/2008
07:20 PM
Terry Sweeney
Terry Sweeney
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The Overwriting Issue

This isn't a partisan screed -- you've got plenty of places across the blogosphere to click for that sort of thing. So here goes: Why is the White House getting a free pass where overwriting the same backup tapes is concerned?

This isn't a partisan screed -- you've got plenty of places across the blogosphere to click for that sort of thing. So here goes: Why is the White House getting a free pass where overwriting the same backup tapes is concerned?You may have seen the coverage explaining what happened to three years' worth of e-mails that the administration has been unable to find or reproduce. The answer to the mystery? They recycled the same backup tapes, over-writing documents and e-mail from 2001 to 2003. Call it the Etch-A-Sketch defense.

There are, of course, pending lawsuits about this sort of storage sloppiness, and righteous cries that this content belongs to the people, not the government or the messages' creators. Congress, in its typically flaccid way, will investigate and hold hearings and a great chorus of harrumphs will be heard across the land.

The Veterans Administration got smacked around pretty good 18 months ago for its negligence in data handling. They even fired a couple IT staffers. And a fair number of financial services companies have been dinged millions for their inability to produce electronic documents or records for courts and regulators.

Should the White House be fined? Why aren't any individuals held responsible or accountable? We expect much, much more of publicly held companies in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. So why isn't the highest office of the land subject to at least the same threshold of responsibility and disclosure?

Oddly, bottom-feeding PR firms haven't landed on this news item as a gambit for me to talk to their client about how this Oval Office mess could have been avoided with their client's product. (Please, that's not an invitation.) And I'll be surprised if any of the current crop of presidential candidates adds a storage integrity plank to their platform.

But regardless of party or political stripe, it seems a small thing to follow basic backup protocol. Neither e-mail preservation nor tape handling are new disciplines. It makes it a real challenge not to impute malice or forethought to the administration. Here's hoping next November's winner handles these kinds of details with more care and respect.

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