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Compliance, eDiscovery and Email Management

The Case of Lois Lerner and LOST Emails

The case of Lois Lerner and lost emails may be one of the most pertinent examples in recent times of the link between email archiving and politics.

Conservatives Targeted?

Between the years 2009 and 2011, while investigating the tax exempt status of different groups, certain branches of the IRS (one of which was headed by Lois Lerner) purportedly gave extra scrutiny to those organizations affiliated with the Republican party and its Tea Party wing. When complaints by these organizations began to be evaluated, it did appear, for whatever reason, that extra investigative efforts were being directed toward those groups.  In light of this, emails from one of the top officials (Lois Lerner) were requested, in order to determine whether unfair practices were being engaged in.

The Lost Emails

Upon the request for these emails by investigators, an unfortunate event occurred.  Ms. Lerner’s computer hard drive reportedly crashed, wiping out her emails and thereby preventing any examination of the possibly incriminating material. Investigators then decided to request copies of the emails from the company that did email archiving for the IRS.  That was when another unfortunate event occurred.  The company said it only archived emails for 6 months, so the possibly incriminating emails no longer existed.  Perhaps in reaction to this failing, or perhaps not, the IRS subsequently fired this contractor.  To date, none of the emails have been recovered.

The Fallout

Lack of appropriate email archiving, in this situation, led to a political firestorm. Regardless of what information the emails contained, their loss looked suspicious.  The situation gave political representatives and spokespeople an opportunity to accuse the IRS of unfair practices and hiding evidence.  Ms. Lerner had to retire, and may face prosecution and even jail time (although many political experts consider this to be unlikely). At any rate, Ms. Lerner’s name will forever by synonymous with the (?) fortuitous loss of evidence and poor email archiving procedures.

The Story Continues

The IRS has now confirmed that the emails of five other employees (including a senior aide to Ms Lerner) have also disappeared, having not been properly archived, either.  In addition, other emails from Ms. Lerner (which were not among the lost ones) have been recovered, showing what appears to be an unfavorable opinion of conservatives and conservative groups.  Even the White House has been accused of being involved in the situation and subsequent cover up.

And the Moral of the Story Is…

If the IRS had used the right email archiving company, perhaps the hubbub surrounding Ms. Lerner’s emails would have turned out to be much ado about nothing.  Alternatively, if the IRS had picked the right email provider, the emails would have been available for investigation, and appropriate actions could have been taken.  Regardless of which side of the political spectrum one views the issue from; appropriate email archiving would have been a plus in this situation.  Hopefully, other political officials will take note…and use an email archiving firm that really can be relied on.

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