Usually, deleting emails is a no-fanfare, one-click affair -- but not when you're the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Homeland Security. Both agencies have recently submitted proposals to the National Archives and Records Administration that outline their plans to delete years' worth of emails, which the Archives has already tentatively approved. The CIA apparently turned one in to comply with the administration's directive, ordering federal agencies to conjure up viable plans to better manage government emails by 2016. If approved, all the correspondences of every person to ever be employed by the CIA will be flushed down the digital toilet three years after they leave. All messages older than seven years old will also be nuked, and only the digital missives of 22 top officials will be preserved -- something which several senators do not want to happen.
Led by California Senator Dianne Fenstein, the group sent NARA a letter detailing why they want the Archives to reconsider its tentative approval of the CIA's proposal. Based on what was written there, the senators seem concerned that the agency might use that opportunity to expunge any important correspondence or materials (say, any evidence of dubious activities) not filed as a permanent record.
Homeland Security, on the other hand, says it submitted a similar proposal, because the emails it wants to get rid of don't contain any research significance and would save the government money meant for storage (which costs around $50 per terabyte a month). Its critics worry that this would delete important records of the agency's surveillance system called Einstein, among other things, which monitors government websites' traffic. Losing Einstein documentation could either mean bidding valuable data farewell or destroying evidence that it never worked as the agency intended in the first place.
Funny thing is, while their plans might have been applauded by privacy advocates more than a decade ago, they're met with opposition now in light of what we've recently found out about widescale surveillance. Also, getting of rid years of correspondence from key government agencies goes against the President's promise of a more transparent and open government.
As Electronic Frontier Foundation Lee Tien told Gizmodo,
I'm concerned that destroying this data might destroy data that's material to policy questions about government action... There is a certain irony in questioning the government's reasons here, because privacy advocates normally cheer this kind of move. It's kind of sad. I want to applaud the government for choosing to discard unnecessary data about people. But we have good reason to question the government's reasons because of what we've learned about what we've NOT been told.
While NARA has already tentatively approved these proposals, they're still not a done deal. They're both open for public comments, which means you can have your voice heard by contacting NARA via email or through its website.
[Image credit: Getty Images]