David Michael Miller
Hillary Clinton's use of a personal phone while secretary of state was an amateur's mistake.
I don't know what to make of Hillary Clinton's emails, except that some of us really did want to get in on all the drama behind Chelsea's wedding. Last week Clinton suggested that the press of personal business was one significant reason that she didn't use an official phone when she was secretary of state.
The Clintons nurse a feeling of being singled out for things that others get away with. And, in fact, it looks like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have at least as much digital baggage as she has accumulated. But at some point you'd figure that the Clintons would figure it out. They get increased scrutiny because they are so powerful or at least potentially powerful. Bill was president for eight years, and Hillary was secretary of state and is the strong odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination next year. If she gets elected and wins reelection, the Clintons will have run the country for 16 out of 32 years. With that comes some heightened scrutiny. Nagging reporters come with the territory.
It might not end up being a big deal in the end, but with all that experience behind them why couldn't Clinton and her team see this one coming? Why didn't she or somebody around her insist that she get and use a government-issued phone? It was an amateur's mistake for a group that should be as polished as they come.
One explanation could be that the federal government is still living in the first Clinton Age when it comes to public records catching up with technology. The New York Times, which broke the email story, followed up with a piece last week in which it reported that many federal agencies, including the State Department, have no way of routinely archiving messages even when a government device is used. They instead rely on busy officials to send them to a specific server or to actually print them out and file the paper.
By contrast, local governments are way ahead of them. Here in Madison a comprehensive ordinance has been on the books for years. According to City Attorney Mike May, "No employee or official of the city is to use any technology for official business that fails to create an archived public record. Thus, mayors, alders and city attorneys who use private email for official business are required to copy messages to their city email account."
And, of course, when they do use city-issued accounts their emails are archived automatically.
Basically, the local ordinance says that a local official needs to use official city lines of communication for city business, and if they don't they need to make sure that the communication is forwarded to a city server that will record it. Records must be kept for at least seven years. The law applies to any written form of communication, including emails, text messages, Twitter and the like. It does not apply to voice communications.
May points out with pride that Assistant City Attorney Roger Allen was recognized by the Freedom of Information Council for his work in bringing new technology under the city's open records law.
But he points out that the underlying state of Wisconsin law is still archaic. And he says that he was "shocked that the federal government did not have a rule similar to Madison's."
I was too. This doesn't excuse Clinton and her advisers for bad judgment, but it does lend some understanding to how they could have messed up this bad: At least on the technology and open records front, they live in another time and place.