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It’s been over a decade since Hillary Clinton “set up a private email server for”FacilityUsing your personal Blackberry instead of carrying a separate work device.
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Since then, various federal agencies have developed warnings and prohibitions against public officials using third-party communications systems, lest they violate federal records laws.
But it keeps happening.
The latest offender: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alexander Mayorkas.
recent record exposure to our organization by DHS, Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), reveal that, on at least one occasion, the agency’s assistant secretary for public affairs sent work-related business to Mayorkas’ unprotected personal last year email accountMayorkas replied back using that account.
email focused on a “press roundupmedia coverage, much of which was edited out for being too sensitive for release.
Why a high-ranking DHS communications official would have corresponded with the secretary at a private address is unknown, but the ease of the action suggests he may have done so before.
As Clinton’s case shows, government officials using private email and messaging apps for government business is nothing new.
Some do this, perhaps, to avoid transparency obligations, others simply for convenience.
Just last month, for example, the Defense Department’s internal watchdog Free A report found that defense personnel used unauthorized mobile applications for official business, including apps that automatically delete messages.
Because private accounts are generally not subject to federal records laws—and are not easily searchable through agency records tools—these informal communication channels essentially operate under the cover of secrecy.
And it’s difficult to convince a federal judge that private accounts contain official records, making them challenging to recover.
records were disclosed about Mayorkas and Confirmed AFPF as part of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) our ongoing investigation And trial Regarding Disinformation Governance Board.
DHS insists it has no reason to believe there are more emails from the secretary’s private account. Perhaps. But the full extent of the secretary’s use of private email has yet to be determined.
Most notable here is that evidence of the Secretary’s use of informal communication channels has emerged in the context of the now-defunct Disinformation Governance Board.
DHS publicly announced The board was formed last April as part of a “coordinating effort to combat misinformation related to homeland security, particularly focused on irregular immigration and Russia.”
The board’s development proved controversial, and raised concerns about First Amendment violations and speech suppression.
In fact, DHS failed to explain in detail why it had the authority to establish such a board, as well as its overall goals, mission and mandate.
These red flags raised suspicions from groups across the ideological spectrum, including american civil liberties unionThe Knight First Amendment InstituteThe Heritage Foundation And Republican Members of Congress,
These concerns were clearly heard and DHS first stopped the board earlier in may terminate its charter in August.
Mayorkas’ receiving work-related emails in his personal account may have been a one-time incident, but given the track record of federal officials and the general lack of transparency at DHS, it seems unlikely.
So AFPF Filed Another FOIA Demand In the last month to find out how often Mayorkas has been using his private email for government business, either intentionally or other officials in the agency have been sending him messages.
DHS failed to respond to this request, forcing us to file another trial To securely release the requested records for the previous month. We are still waiting for a reply.
This isn’t the first time Mayorcas and DHS have had problems with private email use.
Back in 2014, DHS banned the use of private-mail for personal use on the agency’s computers, but exempted to top leadership personnel on a case-by-case basis, including then-Secretary Jeh Johnson and current Secretary Mayorkas, who at the time was head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The government has never explained why these exemptions from DHS policy were considered.
DHS eventually revoked the waiver after it was revealed by mediaBut at the time cyber security experts noted that how any private email is made critical security vulnerabilityYes.
Transparency advocates similarly expressed concern about the moral hazard of letting agency leadership use private email to correspond among themselves, especially when it could lead to the inclusion of federal records.
That’s exactly what happened later in 2015 when private emails from Johnson and then-CIA director John Brennan got hacked,
Later Johnson was also forced to review 26,000 of his private emails To ensure that he has turned over all official records to DHS.
It is because of situations like these – both the inappropriate use of private email as well as the threat of free speech with questionable government programs – that tools like the FOIA have become so necessary to prevent impunity.
Because the track record of federal officials, from a decade before Clinton to Mayorcas, proves they may not always deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Ryan Mulvey is policy advisor and Kevin Schmidt is director of investigations Americans for Prosperity Foundation,
Federal officials keep using personal emails for government duties
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