Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thoughts on Hillary's email scandal

Laws are designed for people, and the binary nature of modern presidential elections means that if Hillary gets indicted or convicted for leaking classified information, Donald Trump will probably win. This outcome is so clearly unacceptable for the basic integrity of our institutions that I hope FBI investigators informally factor it into their decisions. This motivation must never be revealed, and all formal discussions, arguments and processes must be justified with legal rationality. Explicit (or even implicit) public FBI bias would be far worse than Trump winning, because it would greatly corrode the legitimacy of our nonpartisan civil service, which should ideally be strengthened.

A few other thoughts:
  1. The email scandal is deeply ironic. Hillary likely wanted to reduce her political risk exposure to gaffes discovered via data mining, and so built a private email server. This backfired massively, and led to vastly more exposure and data mining scrutiny compared to her quietly using a government account.

  2. Importantly, the motive seems to me to be nakedly political, rather than nefarious or treasonous. Negligence, arrogance and stupidity certainly play a role. Also important, however, is the lack of precedent and norms over this issue. Technology is changing fast. The email scandal has a deeply unique and frontier quality to it. Certainly every single cabinet official and high-level civil servant has learned something new from this scandal.

  3. Our democracy is built around the impartial application of law, to elites and grunts alike. Hillary, as a First Lady seeking the presidency, is powerfully symbolic in this respect. Regardless of whether the classification and cybersecurity rules are desirable or optimal, an indictment or conviction would be a notable assertion of impartiality and power by the civil service or judiciary.

  4. An indictment or conviction would send an informational signal to existing and future civil servants about the lifestyle and risk profile of government work.

  5. Current archiving and disclosure rules, combined with modern data mining technology, are ridiculous. Younger generations prefer text communication methods over phone, but rules don't reflect this. Phone conversations aren't archived, yet the modern equivalent of them--texting, email, etc.--are. The ultimate result of this will be a massive increase in the number of IT-related scandals and gaffes.

  6. In modern white-collar public jobs, the weird mixture of leisure and work enabled by Twitter and Slack will conflict with the harsh and rigid guidelines of civil service HR rules.

  7. If unreformed, the radical IT transparency in civil service jobs will result in fewer smart and capable employees, especially those angling for future elective office. This will be bad for democracy and bad for our civil service institutions.

  8. Transparency isn't everywhere and always a good thing. The secret ballot is case in point. Total transparency of day-to-day communications is really quite insane.

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