Brian Kemp, Chris Carr, and a Records Management Perspective on that “Nothingburger” Server Wipe

Depending on what news source you read, you might believe that Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr abruptly quit Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s defense in the lawsuit both the SOS’s office and Kennesaw State University are facing over the security of Georgia’s election systems. In some stories, it sounded quite ominous, like Carr had dumped the case because he felt Kemp deserved to lose.

Of course the state deserves to lose the case, but that’s another story. Carr hasn’t waved the white flag. In truth, he’s saddled himself with the harder client. The AG’s office is citing a conflict in representing both the SOS and KSU, so it has outsourced the work of representing the SOS’s office to the law firm of former Governor Roy Barnes. This is not unusual for the AG’s office when there is a possibility that a conflict exists between two state entities. So, what happened?

The most likely cause of the conflict stemmed from a statement from Kemp last Friday, calling a server wipe carried out by KSU “inexcusable conduct or gross incompetence.” He has since reversed course and called the outrage over the wipe “a tasteless nothingburger. Clearly, with Kemp’s statement, there is a division there that would have caused the AG’s office to balk at representing both jointly.

Putting on my records management cap, I believe Kemp is right specifically about the data wipe, and it’s because the server was copied and the data retained before the server was re-purposed. Here are the University System of Georgia Records Retention Schedules that cover institutional research records. Note that data must be stored for three years or permanently, depending on whether this is a finalized report or not. There is nothing in the schedule stating that data must be retained in its original format.

Good thing. Servers crash all the time.

Archivists have pretty much settled on the fact that born-digital records (which this would be) have no one original. Rather, every copy is exactly the same, giving them all equal intrinsic value. This is a really, really geeky professional thing to discuss on GeorgiaPol.com, but I believe it’s crucial to understanding why I think the server wipe is a distraction from the larger case of whether or not our voting machines are trustworthy, which y’all may remember, I do not.

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Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

I was among those figuring Carr was leaving a sinking ship. And that’s what he may well be doing, since the AG’s office presumably could’ve just as easily choose to represent the SoS office as KSU. Other than a sinking ship motive for choosing KSU over the SoS? Consider how Carr came to be AG.

It may not be cut and dried with respect to the wipe, either. Others aren’t necessarily returned electronic devices that have information that is under investigation.

Benevolus
Benevolus

I want to try to recap/summarize this, maybe for my own benefit. – Georgia voting machines have no verifiable paper trail – A security professional discovers that Georgia’s elections server is not secure (June) – Mucho evidence of Russia trying to hack into various state election databases – FBI investigates Georgia’s server – A lawsuit is filed seeking data from the server specifically regarding June 20th runoff election (July 3) – The server is wiped (July 7) – Georgia standards are to keep records for 3 years, although Kemp says they followed “standard IT procedures” – Memory space is cheap… Read more »

evergreentree
evergreentree

“– Mucho evidence of Russia trying to hack into various state election databases” No evidence that they have actually succeeded. Quite the contrary: all available information from the feds and various states indicate that they failed. “– Georgia standards are to keep records for 3 years, although Kemp says they followed “standard IT procedures”” Huh? Data migration most certainly fits that. I work in IT and data is moved from active storage to long term storage all the time. To put it another way, leaving critical data on active, highly used servers is bad practice. It increases the chances of… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus

First of all, I’m sure there are political motivations for some involved and observers, but my comments on this subject just have to do with election integrity. . “No evidence that they have actually succeeded. Quite the contrary: all available information from the feds and various states indicate that they failed.” They would likely have succeeded if they had tried to access this server because it wasn’t secure! . I’m not trying to recount the Ossoff/Handel election. It’s just that there is a suspicious sequence of events here that need to be pursued. . Your points summarized: – Russians were… Read more »

bethebalance
bethebalance

Not going to speak to the rest of your post, evergreen, but one correction” You don’t have to win a lawsuit to be entitled to records. As soon as KSU got notice of the suit, they should have instituted proceedings to preserve the info. Even to intervene in S.O.P. if ncssry. I don’t know how they proceeded with the suit, but sometimes those document requests are filed with the suit. But I bet that they will certainly use some of the defenses you mentioned to avoid production of the records. The excuses will sound like “Oh, so-and-so deleted the data… Read more »

xdog
xdog

Holly, you say ‘the server was copied and the data retained’ because that’s what state records management standards require. How can you be sure those protocols were followed? I haven’t read any news report or heard of any statement by a KSU official that would indicate the data has been saved. The SoS office’s investigation report (headed ‘KSU Deletion of CES Server Data’) says the data hasn’t been lost because ‘indications are’ the FBI saved an image, and ‘all applicable steps’ have been taken by the SoS office to get the FBI to send them to send a copy. That… Read more »

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

Is there a situation Brian Kemp can’t bungle?

Will Durant
Will Durant

We aren’t talking about the NSA’s database of the entire world’s communications here. A record of every box checked, every ballot, along with all of the voter’s individual records should easily fit on a thumb drive. If the integrity of the server’s access is the question then the original hard drive array should never have been repurposed even if we are talking multiple terabyte drives. Brian Kemp’s integrity could easily fit on an 80 byte punch card.

Benevolus
Benevolus

“Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has started an internal investigation into the server wipeout.”

Let me predict the outcome. A low level employee misread a memo and has been terminated. New procedures have been put into place to ensure that this never happens again.

xdog
xdog

The investigation is over and the report has been issued.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Thanks for that link. The investigation concluded that KSU no longer has the info, but “indications” are that the data hasn’t been lost, and it “appears” that KSU might be able to get it back. The very last sentence in the report, the takeaway, is the conclusion that “the narrative asserted in the media that the data was nefariously deleted and is no longer available is completely false and without merit.” The only thing that might be true in that statement is “nefariously”. The media was absolutely correct that KSU did delete the data without keeping a copy for itself,… Read more »

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

Legally, this isn’t a nothingburger. While the backup/transfer of these files may have been routine, the fact remains that Kemp’s office and KSU were on notice of a lawsuit involving these records and, accordingly, have an obligation to take special measures to preserve them against spoliation. There are indications here that they failed to do so.