When it appeared as though the Obama administration had already received sufficient criticism to keep the media busy, the public just learned that a few of Obama’s appointees have been using secret email addresses.
The initial concern that these clandestine email accounts elicit is that it would become difficult to obtain emails for purposes of internal investigations, lawsuits, and the retrieval of public records. Ultimately, this practice leads many to believe that the U.S. government is in some way attempting to conceal certain information from the general public.
While such a concern is not unwarranted, first one must keep in mind that email is not the only way in which people communicate. Even if the cabinet members of a governing body were barred from keeping private email accounts both for work and personal uses, an administration would likely share internal information it deemed unsuitable for the public by other means, if it so wished. However, the most perplexing piece of information that the AP offers is the following: “The practice is separate from officials who use personal, non-government email accounts for work.”
If one thinks closely about the major differences between the functions of a personal email account and these secret email accounts appointees are using, one will see that there is not really any difference at all. While critics are complaining that correspondences made through these secret email accounts could not be investigated, thanks to the Stored Communications Act, neither can those made through personal email accounts without a warrant. Therefore, both types of email accounts would be considered off-limits for investigation purposes and would be essentially of no use for the media. If this is the case, it makes no sense that news and media outlets are heralding this as though it is a special topic of interest.
Additionally, the greatest issue with how the media is handling this is that it frames the practice of having secret emails as something that has never occurred in other presidential cabinets. The public would be severely mistaken if it truly believed that this is a practice unique to members of the Obama administration, and Press Secretary Carney has attempted to make this point clear. Furthermore, while it is impossible to be completely certain of why the administration appointees were using these email addresses, it is certain that people create different email accounts for reasons other than concealing public information.
Work email accounts certainly should never become a primary resource for any personal correspondences. However, as the AP states, people often still use their work emails for non-work-related communication. In light of the frequency with which officials blur the lines between work and their personal lives in respect to their email addresses, conspiracy theorists and Obama critics should hold off on making a special case of these clandestine email accounts.
Members of Obama’s administration may or may not be hiding valuable information from the American people. However, until it becomes certain that the appointees are using these accounts to carry out illegal activities or cover up a major scandal, the media and general public should not become unnecessarily fixated with such a minuscule and insignificant occurrence.