Earlier this month, New Yorkers watched an inferno tear through a warehouse full of old government records from the bygone paper era. Many probably felt relief in thinking that such records are now often digitized and therefore not at risk of being accidentally incinerated. Yet as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is showing this week, many records are vulnerable to another form of destruction: deliberate deletion.
In a memo obtained by Capital New York, Cuomo officials announced that mass purging of email records is beginning across several state government agencies. The timing of the announcement, which followed through on a 2013 proposal, is worth noting: The large-scale destruction of state documents will be happening in the middle of a sprawling federal investigation of public corruption in Albany. That investigation has been looking at state legislators and the Cuomo administration.
Cuomo’s move to purge state emails follows a similar move he made as state Attorney General. International Business Times confirmed that in 2007, he put in place a mass deletion policy for emails in the New York Attorney General’s office that were more than 90 days old, making it difficult for the public to know how -- or whether -- his office investigated bank fraud in the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2008. In the Cuomo administration’s announcement this week, the governor's chief information officer, Maggie Miller, justified the new email purge as a cost-saving measure aimed at “making government work better.”
But former prosecutors and open-government advocates interviewed by IBTimes say the move seems designed to hide information.
“The government belongs to the people and the government has to be transparent,” said Hal Hardin, a former judge and U.S. Attorney who famously investigated Gov. Ray Blanton of Tennessee. “Citizens ought to be able to know what our government is doing. The average email generated by a government owned by the people should be available to the people.”
Melanie Sloan, a former Clinton Justice Department official, said the timing of the move raises significant legal questions.
“This is potentially obstruction of justice,” she told IBTimes. “The only reason that the government destroys records is so no one can question what it is doing, and no one can unearth information about improper conduct. There’s no reason for New York not to preserve this information.”
Sign up for our free e-mail list to see future vaticancatholic.com videos and articles.