Most politics’ watchers will remember the issue of the private email server which got Hillary Clinton into such trouble in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Arguably the prolonged scandal fed into the miasma of unethical or at least suspect behaviour which hung over the former Secretary of State and Democratic Party candidate during the campaign, ultimately contributing to her surprise defeat by the populist, Donald Trump. The latter’s wayward administration has itself been embroiled in a similar controversy, with revelations that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and several top officials were conducting White House business through unregulated, non-governmental email accounts in 2017. Though attempts were made to play down the seriousness of their actions, there are important reasons why governments make use of their own email networks instead of online services like Gmail and Outlook, ranging from data security to data retention. The latter point, of course, is why some politicians are tempted to use their own unofficial means of electronic communication for official work, reducing the risk of future scrutiny by concerned eyes.
Take our own Instagram Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who has been caught out using a third-party personal email for government duties through a Freedom of Information request. When faced with the question before the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, the Fine Gael leader offered a particularly weak defence of his actions, as reported by The Journal:
“He said there are three scenarios in which he uses his personal email address:
1) when the system is down
2) when the battery on his phone dies (which he said happens a lot)
3) when someone emails his private email address about an issue and he replies
He said the department’s policy does not forbid the use of personal email addresses for business, but states that if it is used, it must go on the public record, which is why it was turned over for this Freedom of Information request, he said.”
Maybe the nation could organise a collection, a charity drive to buy the Dublin West TD a new smartphone, just to spare him his blushes and the country a national security leak or something?
Meanwhile, speaking of questionable practices elsewhere in Irish politics, from Sam McBride writing in iNews:
In further evidence of the problems with the culture of verbal government at Stormont, an employment judge has criticised a former Sinn Féin minister for not recording a minute of a key meeting where he decided to appoint two individuals to a public sector position.
Yesterday i revealed that former infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard had asked civil servants not to attend an important meeting with a party colleague and taxi firm owners after which policy about allowing taxis into bus lanes was controversially changed, meaning that there are no minutes of what was discussed.
That revelation undermined Sinn Féin’s attempt to distance itself from the culture which the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service revealed a fortnight ago when he said that officials deliberately did not record certain ministerial meetings due to the fact that the DUP and Sinn Féin were “sensitive to criticism” and were worried about the information being released under the Freedom of Information Act.
This to me is like the rolling ‘they tweeted something they shouldn’t have’ problem, it’s politics 101, no retweets without reading the original, possibly no tweets, and the same with private email accounts. Just bin the lot while one is a politician (or have a specific one for family and friends). There’s the old truth about interviews for potential political candidates where they are asked is their anything in their past which is contentious. This is precisely the same. I’d love to say these were problems waiting to happen, but they are worse, they’re problems that keep happening, again and again and again.