President Obama’s appointees to various government agencies use a secret email unknown to anyone outside of government, according to a report released today.
The AP reports that some of Obama’s appointees, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, were given a secret email address. The news agency discovered the existence of these secret emails after a thorough review that created more questions than answers.
So, why do some government workers use a secret email address? The report says that this secret email address is used to prevent these government workers from being inundated with spam and other unwanted messages. Having two separate email addresses – one to interact with the public and one to interact with government employees – is a fine idea. The problem arises when the press seeks to have these emails turned over as part of Freedom of Information requests, or even when people within the agency try to access these emails.
It was found that these secret email addresses impede internal or external investigations. For example, what if a department was conducting an internal investigation into an alleged wrongdoing? It would be difficult for the investigators to access these secret email addresses as they are kept hidden even from them.
During its investigation, the AP said that it found two government agencies using secret email addresses – Department of Health and Human Services, and the Labor Department. It was also revealed last year that the EPA used secret email addresses to not only communicate within its own ranks, but with outside forces as well. Using these email addresses allowed the agency to exploit a loophole in disclosure rules.
Now the investigation has turned towards compelling a number of other government agencies to disclose employee email addresses as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. Will these agencies turn over all email addresses, or just those that are publicly listed? Will these agencies even admit to using secret email addresses? Only time will tell for now.
The existence of secret email addresses calls the transparency of government into question. It will be hard to trust any responses to FoI requests now that we know that these secret email addresses exist. Government is meant to be transparent, and it’s hard to argue that many of these secret email addresses pose a security risk if made public.
In short, it seems like the same double standard we’ve seen from government time and time again. Confidentiality means nothing when it comes to press sources and records, but it means everything when it comes to innocuous email addresses.