The Hillary Clinton Email Issue Explained

Hillary Clinton
I’m an expert in information technology. I’ve been in this game for nearly 20 years, I’ve done just about anything and everything you could do as a technologist. I’m going to explain this Hillary Clinton email server story to you.

Set aside all of the partisan chatter and the lame attempts by journalists to understand Clinton’s decision as secretary of state to use a private email server, rather than the one provided by the federal government. None of these people understands the issue at a basic level and so none of their “analysis” makes any sense.

Here’s the real reason why Clinton used her own private email address and server. It was easier. The decision was made, as Clinton has said, out of convenience. If you’ve ever had to deal with a large organization’s information technology, you know why Clinton used her own server.

I’ve spent countless hours writing code to work around cumbersome information technology system in large corporations.

Large organizations put lots of restrictions on what you can or can’t do with their information technology, and for good reason. From an organization’s perspective, every new feature IT offers has to be supported, usually with the same staffing levels. So if Clinton wanted to be able to send and receive email using a mobile device, that might not have been available going through the government’s email server.

And on the issue of security, whether Clinton’s email server was less safe than the government’s servers, that’s a valid question, but there’s been no evidence the server wasn’t secure. But in terms of classified information, email as a mode of conveyance is inherently not secure. You can secure the sending and receiving of email from Clinton’s computer or handheld to her server, but once the email goes beyond her server, or the government’s server, it can no longer be considered secure. Unless you can guarantee that the email you sent to Frank in Baghdad never traverses an unencrypted pipe, you have to assume the information has been exposed.

What’s also silly is the argument that because Clinton’s email messages were stored on her own server, as opposed to the government’s, she is somehow shielded from reporters’ requests for information and the prying eyes of Congress.

The New York Times published a huge front page story, underpinning the reporting was this notion that Clinton’s email messages were outside the scope of a Freedom of Information Act request because they resided on her email server and not the government’s. That is not accurate.

Everything Clinton wrote down as secretary of state is a public record. It doesn’t matter where it resides. It could be a napkin at a bar or a sticky note stuck to her laptop. Those are all public documents and legally must be kept as part of the public record. Of course, Clinton could delete emails from her personal server in an attempt to destroy the public record. She could do that with the government server as well. If that happened, it would be pretty easy for computer forensics to determine whether email messages are missing.

So the notion that Clinton used her own personal email server in an effort to sidestep Freedom of Information Act requests or members of Congress is ridiculous. Those who think that don’t understand the concept of open records, public records and the Freedom of Information Act. Those who believe this “theory,” also have to provide some sort of evidence that shows Clinton engaged in destroying public documents, which is a felony.

The real reason Clinton used her own email server was because it was easier. It was the wrong choice, but that’s why she did it.

If I had been advising Clinton when she started as secretary of state, I would have told her that she should not use her own email server. I would have said that using your own server is extremely risky politically. For instance, if her server had been hacked, and messages stolen and leaked, Clinton’s political career would be over. While there’s no evidence that the email server had security holes, if it didn’t, that’s because someone was actively managing it and applying all of the latest security updates. Properly managing an email server for a high-ranking government official is a big deal, and shouldn’t be taken on lightly. If done poorly, it could have been catastrophic for Clinton’s career. I don’t think the risk was worth the reward from a technological or a political perspective.

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