White House Has Three Days to Refute E-mail Query

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 8:55 AM

WASHINGTON -- A federal court on Tuesday gave White House officials three days to explain why they should not be required to make copies of all e-mails on computers in the Executive Office of the President.

In a three-page order, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola expressed concern that a large volume of electronic messages may be missing from White House computer servers. That's the allegation made by two private groups that are suing the White House.

Facciola's proposal would require the White House to make copies of all e-mails from the period of March 2003 to October 2005.

In his order, Facciola pointed to the White House's recent acknowledgment that it recycled computer backup tapes until October 2003. Recycling raises the possibility that any missing e-mails may not be recoverable.

It was another court order by Facciola in January demanding answers from the EOP about its e-mail system that forced the White House to disclose that it had recycled computer backup tapes until October 2003.

At a House committee hearing last month, a computer expert who previously worked at the White House called the EOP's e-mail system ''primitive'' and said it was set up in a way that created a high risk that data would be lost.

In response, the White House says it does not know if any e-mails were not properly preserved in the archiving process. It says it is looking into the matter.

As a result of the Feb. 26 House committee hearing called by Democrats, the White House said it never completed work that began in 2003 on a planned records management and e-mail archiving system. The White House canceled the project in late 2006 and says it is still working on a new version.

''The court finds the White House's defenses as incredible as we do and is trying to come up with a way to preserve what might be left,'' said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which had asked the judge to act.

Regarding Facciola's latest move, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said ''we have received the order, are reviewing it and will respond appropriately.''

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