The Very Rich Hours of the Lambrights

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Why We Need to Talk About Sarah Palin’s Email Being Hacked

September 30th, 2008 · No Comments

Most of you have probably already heard that Governor Palin’s Yahoo email account got hacked.  By all accounts, a high school kid used a pretty basic method to change her password.  This shows that the password retrieval system in use at Yahoo (and most other free email providers) works reasonably well for normal people but is useless for anyone who is famous with a well-publicized personal life.  To get a new password, you have to answer a security question that only you should know.  Something like: “Where did you meet your spouse?”  For me, that is pretty secure.  Not too many know that about me and Nicole.  But imagine you’re Sarah Palin.  Your life story has been splashed across the internet and media.  Everyone knows she met her husband in high school and everyone knows where she went to high school.  If you don’t know these things, 10 seconds with Google will reveal them.

That’s how the kid got access to her account.  I swear I’m not making this up.

There is also an ethics story here.  Was it wrong to hack her email and spread her personal messages all over the internet?  Yes, it was.  I don’t care what party the victim belongs to; it’s wrong.  And I suspect the government is going to throw the book at the kid responsible.

These are the main stories that have emerged from this episode.  But there is another story.  One that, I think, is more important and has only been reported in a few newspapers with good political bureaus.   This story is about why she was using Yahoo for email in the first place.  The Washington Post has a good article with some details.

Some of Palin’s hacked email was personal.  But some of it was professional, including messages to her Lt. Governor and the Alaska State Department Department of Public Safety (DPS).  DPS manages the state troopers in Alaska.  Palin is under investigation for improperly trying to get a trooper fired.  Hmm.

There’s even a message asking an attorney if her Yahoo and Blackberry email are immune to subpoena.

We have a real problem in this country with elected official using private email to conduct government business.  This is generally illegal; the federal government and most state governments require that all documents and records be properly saved and cataloged.  This serves legal, administrative, and historical needs.  The Bush administration has been very bad about this, with much of Vice President Cheney’s email being managed on a non-government server.  Interestingly enough, it was revealed that much of this email was “mysteriously” deleted before the Valerie Plame special prosecutor started his investigation.

While I have cited two Republicans who are guilty of this practice, I don’t believe it’s just the Republicans.  I’m sure there are Democrats doing the same thing.  They are just as wrong.

We need better laws on Presidential and other government records, updated to include strong language on email and electronic documents.  And we need public officials willing to obey and enforce such laws.  We don’t have that now.  Democracy without sunshine, the best disinfectant, is a hoax.

Tags: Politics

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