The revelation that former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton used a personal email server for White House business — and may have deleted more than half her emails — is the latest example of politicians doing the public’s bidding in shadowed back alleys.
If public officials are to be held accountable for their actions, the voting public must be aware of the decisions made on their behalf. That level of transparency can’t happen when private emails are used, let alone when a politician has a secured email server.
We saw this happen in Alaska in 2008, when former half-term governor Sarah Palin was found to be using a Yahoo! email account for state business. What followed was a long, drawn-out process as Palin turned over her private emails. The attention to Palin’s use of a Yahoo! account drew the attention of a young password cracker who figured out Palin’s email password and — after a court battle — was sentenced to a year in prison for accessing an account that by all rights should have been visible to Alaskans.
Email communications by public officials are supposed to be documented and archived for future reference, including through Freedom of Information Act requests by the press and general public. It’s arguably the best form of checks and balances available because those serving in a public capacity are aware that all they do and say may be viewed and scrutinized. Sidestepping this procedure obscures the inner workings of government and renders impotent those entrusted to be the public’s watchdog. In short, we don’t know what we don’t know. With Clinton’s emails, we likely never will because Clinton is the one who is deciding what will and won’t be released (providing the message wasn’t deleted).
In a time where the federal government is accessing the public’s phone records and communications without need for a warrant, it’s nothing short of hypocrisy for government officials to skirt around public information laws pertaining to them.
This issue of transparency is about more than just emails. More and more business is being conducted via text messaging, which doesn’t fall under the same regulations as government email correspondences.
We must demand better of those representing our best interests, both on the national stage and closer to home.
The Freedom of Information Act allows you to seek information from your government, but there are an unfortunate number of exceptions that were intended specifically but now used liberally. If you haven’t tried to request information through FOIA, we challenge you to do so. We suspect that you’ll find what we have: That the response will be limited, that you’ll be blocked by time or cost, and that you’ll be frustrated as we are.
It’s our job as a newspaper to investigate and seek hidden information. You should care, too.
When we can’t get information, you can’t either. It’s your rights that are being taken away. It’s your freedom that’s at stake.
— Juneau Empire, March 17