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More Details On San Diego's New Email Deletion Policy

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March 4, 2014 1:19 p.m.

GUESTS:

Cory Briggs, Attorney for San Diegans for Open Government

Ben Katz, Technology entrepreneur and political director for Open San Diego

The mayor's office declined to send a spokesperson to discuss the email policy.

Related Story: Mayor Faulconer Postpones San Diego's Email Deletion Policy

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, During San Diego's recent mayoral campaign there compasses me to put the commitment to transparency and open government. So open that government advocates were disturbed and confused by an announcement last week from San Diego City Hall. Starting at the end of this month all emails of the year will be deleted from the city's email system and earlier the same week the San Diego city Council voted to table an open government ballot budget measurement sending it as one of the advocate described into the weeds. Joining me to talk about this are my guests Cory Briggs and Ben Katz. We invited a representative to join this conversation but the city declined to send a spokesperson. Let me start with Corey, who made this announcement about the emails and what was the reason given for deleting emails after year?

CORY BRIGGS: On February 20 twenty-seventh Congress and a map memo to city poison oak that there'd been a regulatory change within the city and it did not go to the city Council, but Mister Gloria the city of attorney and some others signed up for the exchange and takes effect next month. Apparently the cost of storing emails is not going to be about half $1 million in the city does not want to occur that cost.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Both San Diegans probably won't have much reason to read old city employee emails, explain to us why you believe it is important to have access to this information?

CORY BRIGGS: Said there has been email most of the data they work of the city business like anyone's business is conducted electronically and that is where most communications are, if you're in the business of dealing with employee issues aren't the is the subduing contracts and development projects most of those communications are taking place that on paper but by email and that is the context in which all of the city's work habits and to delete those records because they are more than a year old is just drawing an arbitrary line. It probably exposes the city to a lot of risk for government issues but it's just plain stupid, it's like tearing up the pages of your diary and saying that never happened.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The city Council is already involved in a lawsuit over emails have you brought one of those lawsuits?

CORY BRIGGS: There are actually two.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the idea there?

CORY BRIGGS: The essence of the first of the time Gloria has been using his personal smartphone and personal email accounts to conduct city business but will not disclose those can vacation's and the second lawsuit is against Jan Goldsmith for the same thing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And is there any court action between the idea of this announcement of deleting emails and the lawsuits that the open open government has brought?

CORY BRIGGS: I have no idea, if the city had encouraged to spend a send a spokes spokesperson we may have an answer that but the timing is suspicious because the lawsuit against Mister Goldsmith was filed shortly before this change and when this came out and subpoenas were issued to Mister Gloria at the end of last year in January of this year and suddenly we have a policy that says were going to be deluding emails older than a year and I have no idea whether there's a connection but the timing certainly stinks.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The explanation by the city to delete older emails is that there near point email archive sit system is overburdened, I know I myself have emails in my archive that are more than two years old and I think a lot of people here at KPBS of the same thing, with the city talking about?

BEN KATZ: That is good question, open San Diego is made up of IT professionals who volunteer their time to help advise on technical issues and the one of us can figure out why this project should cost anywhere near have $1 million. We did a small turtles survey and the ranges were from $20,000 for really cheap easy solution to $120,000 on the high end. We can archive every email of all 11,000 city employees going back a decade for no more than $120,000 for the high end.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And so in your group of IT professionals cannot figure out why the IT professional in the city of San Diego would estimate that it would cost $500,000. To upgrade the system.

BEN KATZ: It's a very strange recommendation, it's like buying the most expensive car that you And we need to pick up trash or we need to go by for ñ it really does not make any sense to any of us and then, if that is your first press that you get, why did they not go look for that and see we can afford to $500,000 let's see what we can get for $50,000. The technology is out there, they're cheaper and easier solutions you don't get the Catholic Cadillac but you get when you really need to do in this case is to maintain the data.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is the city keeping it up it up with advances? This high figure could be reflective and an older approach to technology that is not keeping up with the times.

BEN KATZ: That is almost certainly the problem and we see that throughout the country and throughout the world, how government approach to information technology is not keeping up with the times and if you are looking to pay this paved streets, the way that you pay the street what you cause because they the same as five or ten years ago, IT is completely different. Hard drives drop in cost by half every fourteen months. One possibility in this case, they look at the quote they got five years ago for the system and assumed or were possibly just willing to pay exactly the same they really should be about a fourth of the cost.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When the question, city officials in San Diego but to other governments that only keep email this save for 60 to 90 days Is there any technological or budgetary reason for governments to governments to delete emails after short such a short time?

BEN KATZ: There's no reason for anyone to delete emails, and data storage is so amazingly cheap that you can essentially store every email & forever because every fourteen months it drops in cost by 50% again, and frankly data is what drives modern organizations. It is a powerful tool and a powerful asset so to throw it away over $100,000 in a city organization with 11,000 employees; it makes no technological sense whatsoever.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Corey you claimed that the if the city of San Diego goes through with this new policy and deletes it there-year-old emails as planned, it will violate existing state law. How?

CORY BRIGGS: The government code sets up the procedures for getting rid of public records document, papers things of that sort. If you're not going to the cities legislative body, before he can get rid of it with the you must do is reproduce a archive of all process copy of it and that is what the statute says. If there estimate of making it digital copy is half million dollars what you think the cost would be of having to print out an email and read it through a scanner and take some sort of magnetic photographic or electronic copy in order to preserve it to meet legal requirements? That cost I have not seen calculated anywhere and so, would been rightly points out that you have this big negligible cost to maintaining the formatted as now, it's probably exponentially greater to have a human being making archival copies and no one has factored that it to be into the equation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH:The code is state law require them to hold onto communications for two years?

CORY BRIGGS: They can of approve destruction after two years, after the documents are no longer required and so if you are confident that the emails are no longer retort required, then you can get rid of them after two years but you would have to look at all of those documents to figure out whether or not they are required and my assumption is that most of what the public employees are doing on a day-to-day basis is actually in the furtherance of public business and is required. The cold the city says that

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The city says that the county only keeps emails for sixty days.

CORY BRIGGS: I don't know if that is true but I suspect after this is resolved county will want to take a look at its potential policy as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This most recent five about emails comes up about after the city Council decided to table the proposed open government initiative, the majority of the council said that the initiative might overlap with a state ballot measure on the June ballot, with the open government initiative have included access to city employee email archives?

CORY BRIGGS: My understanding is yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All about those emails that you are talking about where people might use their own private email accounts to communicate about city business, with that open government initiative also give the public access to that?

CORY BRIGGS: I don't know the answer to that question, here is why the way that the rules are currently regulated the test is not whether you're setting it from your iPhone or your home computer, is whether your conducting public business and all of these electronic medications are stored somewhere, by the service provider. The real question is do we have missed the keepers who are willing to say yes I use my cell device for public business and by the way here is that email, given the links to which were elected officials on one side of the amount seeks be the Lee of open government and on the other side of their mouth do stuff to impede it and you should be very concerned that we don't have our escape keepers and honest gatekeepers and the rules are there but they are not being followed by politicians.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In light of the scandal, we recently had involving former mayor Bob Filner, there was a lot of discussion during his campaign about open government and Mayor Kevin Faulconer said that during his campaign there should be nothing secret about the people's business, how does that statement jive with these recent decisions in City Hall?

BEN KATZ: I am not followed the (policy closely enough but with this issue I am not convinced that this is something in malicious I think that this is often just an issue of a lack of information. That the officials of City Hall are not getting good information about what it takes to retain this information and make it publicly accessible and legal by Google search applying a server or a box that you plug into your network and you can make it easy for any citizen to search for any information on the city archives, but I think most city Council members have never been heard about the Google search on policy and named hoping that since he had such conversations on this because Mayor Faulconer did commit to making this a priority we will see real changes and to be honest I do feel a little bad for Mayor Faulconer and his staff, they haven't even finished unpacking boxes and their hit with their first scandal and I hope they will come on in a few days to answer these questions and move the city for.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Corey?

CORY BRIGGS: This is a test for Mayor Faulconer he read open government as part of his platform he was not part of this decision and he did not sign off at less and he is in it position to receive this in a regulation and we sent him a letter yesterday. And he has until the end of the week to pull out his hand and he has he will hopefully be able to walk the walk.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If Faulconer does not resend it what is your course of action?

CORY BRIGGS: There will be a lawsuit filed next week.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay thank you very much, I've been speaking with Cory Briggs and Ben Katz. Thank you both very much.