Take Note: E-Mails Leave Paper Trails

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others have been tripped up by the e-mail they left behind. Communicating electronically is a convenience, but it can also be a menace to politicians.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says that elected officials should take an important lesson from the scandals surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: E-mails leave paper trails.

DANIEL SCHORR: On March 13th, with the firing of eight U.S. attorneys becoming an issue, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters: I was not involved in sending any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

To the intense embarrassment of Gonzales and the White House, that was wrong. Twice in the preceding months, Gonzales had been informed that it was going to happen. The second time, he approved the plan for carrying out the executions. Had there been a leak? Not exactly. The information was contained in e-mail messages sent to the Judiciary Committee amid 3,000 pages of requested material.

Communicating electronically is a convenience; it can also be a menace, as some have learned to their dismay. Former Representative Mark Foley was done in when some of his sex-laden instant messages to teenage House pages got out. Super lobbyist Jack Abramoff, on trial for corruption, was damaged by e-mails documenting his efforts to acquire government properties.

Recently, it was disclosed that some White House aides have taken to conducting their business using external e-mail accounts. That keeps the traffic out of the White House e-mail system. That means they won't be automatically archived. It also won't be included when White House files are subpoenaed by the FBI or by congressional investigators.

Congress is already wise to these tactics. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has already warned Republican National Committee members not to destroy any of the e-mail sent from these accounts.

But can e-mail from these private files be subpoenaed, too? Think of it this way: in a world of wiretapping and surveillance, why should e-mail be exempt?

This is Daniel Schorr.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.