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Author Topic: article arstechnica regarding IRS lost emails
LetterRip
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Excellent article,

Someone was asking how plausible it was for multiple people to have their hard drives die,

quote:
A study by Backblaze found that 22 percent of hard drives fail within four years, with half failing within six. In 2011, the last major hardware upgrade the IRS had made to laptops and desktops was a buy from Hewlett-Packard in 2002, so desktop drives were likely dying like flies.
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/06/are-those-lost-irs-emails-unbelievable-not-really/
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Rafi
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This was a attempt to cover for the IRS losing emails. We now know that about 20 people she had been emailing experienced similar hard drive failures and, despite the legal requirement that backups be maintained, those were apparently lost too.

However, now we're learning a little more.

quote:
"A Department of Justice attorney told a Judicial Watch attorney on Friday that it turns out the federal government backs up all computer records in case something terrible happens in Washington and there's a catastrophe, so the government can continue operating," Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton told Fox News's Shannon Bream.

"But it would be too hard to go get Lois Lerner’s e-mails from that backup system," Fitton continued, paraphrasing the DOJ official. "So, everything we’ve been hearing about scratched hard drives, about missing e-mails of Lois Lerner, other IRS officials, other officials in the Obama administration, it's all been a pack of malarkey. They could get these records, but they don’t want to."

So there are backups, just real hard to get to for some reason.

Not only that, but:
quote:
The IRS filing in federal Judge Emmet Sullivan's court reveals shocking new information. The IRS destroyed Lerner's Blackberry AFTER it knew her computer had crashed and after a Congressional inquiry was well underway. As an IRS official declared under the penalty of perjury, the destroyed Blackberry would have contained the same emails (both sent and received) as Lois Lerner's hard drive.

We all know by now that Lois Lerner’s hard drive crashed in June 2011 and was destroyed by IRS. The emails of up to twenty other related IRS officials were missing in remarkably similar "crashes," leading many to speculate that Lois Lerner’s Blackberry perhaps held the key. Now, the [New York] Observer can confirm that a year after the infamous hard drive crash, the IRS destroyed Ms. Lerner's Blackberry--and without making any effort to retain the emails from it.

So a year after the hard drive "failure" and a few months into the investigation, suddenly the Blackberry goes down too - also without any backup. At this point, what are the odds of the Blackberry's owned by the 20 others also being similarly scrapped without backup?

It's a pretty incredible coincidence that this all just happens so perfectly.

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scifibum
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"So there are backups, just real hard to get to for some reason."

So an attorney said something to another attorney who then reported it to Fitton, president of an organization that is suing over the matter. I can't imagine a more reliable way to convey accurate technical details.

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NobleHunter
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Depending on how it's stored, maintained, and encrypted, it may not be possible to go into the back-ups and retrieve specific pieces of information. Gaining access to her emails may result in gaining access to all emails or even all data, which means getting permission probably requires the approval of a whole bunch of people with twice as many agendas.

Bureaucratic barriers aside it's almost certainly highly inaccessible, since unauthorized access would make the leak of diplomatic cables look like peanuts. Data is likely intended to flow one way, except in the case of full restoration.

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AI Wessex
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Blackberry's don't store extensive backups. They have limited memory and the cache is wiped on every update, for instance. Basically, you can't rely on a smartphone for any history.
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sfallmann
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Al - Smartphones pull or get pushed email from the Exchange server. Your mailbox isn't on the phone. It's essentially no different than using Windows Mail, Outlook, OWA - it's just another mail client.

They may not have message level or mailbox level backups. It's possible.

But they can get it. Companies do it all the time. That's why you have a backup.

Not just for disaster recovery, sometimes a person deletes something and you need to get it back.

Even if they have to fully restore the exchange server they can do it on different hardware. Hell - they can restore to a VM if they have server running vmware. The small company I work for (with 90 employees)can do these things, but the IRS can't? Bull****.

The ease of it being done is dependent on how they back up. But how easy should be irrelevant at this point. Just do it.

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AI Wessex
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Yes, but what is the point of complaining when a robust backup strategy *isn't* followed? To legitimize that disbelief rather than accept it necessitates claiming fraud. That's where some people want to go so they dismiss the more benign, but plausible, explanation. These democrats are unbelievably clever purveyors of perfidy! Look how many things they anticipated and thwarted even before anyone could have known the importance of these damnded emails. Curses!

[ August 26, 2014, 05:28 PM: Message edited by: AI Wessex ]

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TomDavidson
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To the point, I just want to observe that her Blackberry would not have had a separate cache of emails; and therefore, when it was destroyed, nothing new would have been lost.
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scifibum
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quote:
The ease of it being done is dependent on how they back up. But how easy should be irrelevant at this point. Just do it.
What exists that can be restored is a question that I don't think is actually answered by the twice or thrice removed hearsay that Rafi was reacting to.

Yes, the government along with every big organization should make disaster recovery backups, and (depending on how competent, well funded, or careful they are) largely do. I imagine the attorney that talked to Fitton's attorney has heard about this.

But we've already heard from people in the IT organization that they don't have backups for the emails in question, because the retention period for those particular backups was short.

Why should the lawyer's knowledge of a general disaster recovery capability tell us that the IT people were wrong about whether they possess the backups in question?

[ August 26, 2014, 06:08 PM: Message edited by: scifibum ]

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LetterRip
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As the wise monk said ... we'll see.

If it turns out the backups exist, excellent - we can find whether anything improper or incriminating exists in the missing emails.

From the articles I've found, this sounds like the Judicial Watch attorney simply misunderstood what was being said.

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scifibum
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Yes, it would be good if they can retrieve copies of all the lost emails, whatever they show. I think I'm just getting impatient with the "omg conspiracy" angle to which any dubious fact seems to end up bent.
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sfallmann
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
To the point, I just want to observe that her Blackberry would not have had a separate cache of emails; and therefore, when it was destroyed, nothing new would have been lost.

I agree completely. There might have been text messages or something saved, but I don't believe that's what all the bitching is about. Concerning email: the device, application - whatever - is not really relevant.
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sfallmann
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
Yes, it would be good if they can retrieve copies of all the lost emails, whatever they show. I think I'm just getting impatient with the "omg conspiracy" angle to which any dubious fact seems to end up bent.

The feet dragging and changing stories make it appear that there is something dubious.

I don't necessarily believe anything would be found. Maybe they are dragging their feet as a F.U to Issa. Perhaps it is a cover up, but it's a cover up at the IRS without the White House being implicated.

We just don't know, but the actions make them appear like they are covering up something.

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AI Wessex
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
As the wise monk said ... we'll see.

If it turns out the backups exist, excellent - we can find whether anything improper or incriminating exists in the missing emails.

From the articles I've found, this sounds like the Judicial Watch attorney simply misunderstood what was being said.

It should be clear that those of us that are arguing against the Democratic perfidy are not actually insisting that the emails are lost or hoping that they won't be found. The truth will out, as that wise monk may have also said. If they can be found, so be it. In the meantime, why insist they were intentionally destroyed.
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sfallmann
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quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:
quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
As the wise monk said ... we'll see.

If it turns out the backups exist, excellent - we can find whether anything improper or incriminating exists in the missing emails.

From the articles I've found, this sounds like the Judicial Watch attorney simply misunderstood what was being said.

It should be clear that those of us that are arguing against the Democratic perfidy are not actually insisting that the emails are lost or hoping that they won't be found. The truth will out, as that wise monk may have also said. If they can be found, so be it. In the meantime, why insist they were intentionally destroyed.
I think most people (politicians, talking heads, reporters, etc), whatever their party or ideology, are out of their depth concerning this subject. They don't know what the hell they are talking about.

There are definitely Democrats who hope the emails are lost or not found, just like there are Republicans that hope this drags out so they can beat up Democrats about it. I think most of them don't give a damn about the truth coming out. I also don't think it would play out much different, except for the constant front page newspaper coverage, if the parties were reversed in this matter.

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AI Wessex
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I admit it would be refreshing if the Republican attackers turned out to be right for a change [Wink] . They've worked so hard on so many topics with no reward for their efforts.
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sfallmann
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Sure, Al. Democrats never do that.

They both suck.

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scifibum
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quote:
I think most people (politicians, talking heads, reporters, etc), whatever their party or ideology, are out of their depth concerning this subject. They don't know what the hell they are talking about.
Agreed.
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NobleHunter
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But that doesn't stop us from speculating wildly. [Smile]
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AI Wessex
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It resembles pro wrestling more than I would like to admit.
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cherrypoptart
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http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/08/25/doj-attorneys-intimate-lost-lerner-emails-likely-exist-in-back-up-computers/

"In a stunning revelation, the president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch told Fox News that Justice Department attorneys have intimated that Lois Lerner's "lost" emails likely exist in back-up computers.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the news came during a Friday phone call with Department of Justice attorneys representing the IRS in Judicial Watch's FOIA lawsuit against the IRS.

Fitton said DOJ attorneys told him the federal government backs up all computer records to ensure the continuity of government in event of a catastrophe. They told him that retrieving the emails from Lerner, a former IRS official, would be "too onerous" - a legal burden that can exempt an agency from complying with FOIA requests."

So all this hard drive nonsense was exactly that. Nonsense. And besides the IRS backup system that is now apparently too onerous to retrieve data from (more nonsense), there were always the NSA copies of the emails.

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LoverOfJoy
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:

But we've already heard from people in the IT organization that they don't have backups for the emails in question, because the retention period for those particular backups was short.

Do we know how short the retention period was? How does it compare to the retention period taxpayers are required to have for their tax documents? Given the study on hard drive failure, you'd hope there'd be significant mercy from the IRS for lost documentation after 4-6 years (I think that's the case but don't know).
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AI Wessex
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Yes, but what is the point of complaining when a robust backup strategy *isn't* followed? To legitimize that disbelief rather than accept it necessitates claiming fraud. That's where some people want to go so they dismiss the more benign, but plausible, explanation. These democrats are unbelievably clever purveyors of perfidy! Look how many things they anticipated and thwarted even before anyone could have known the importance of these damnded rails. Curses!
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sfallmann
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I'm trying to hunt down how the IRS backed up their data. Sonasoft has been reported as how they did backups, but it's not the case according to Sonasoft:

http://www.sonasoft.com/sonasofts-irs-email-archiving/

Maybe they were pressured to lie, but I believe this is the truth. I think that's the reasonable and sensible position.

Here's more to back this up:

http://reason.com/blog/2014/06/20/the-irs-had-a-contract-with-an-email-bac

It's the update at the bottom concerning the money spent. It's too low to have done much at all.

[ August 27, 2014, 07:45 AM: Message edited by: sfallmann ]

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AI Wessex
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Who in the government claimed Sonasoft had backups, let alone destroyed them? If no one, which right-wing group started the rumor and which ones fed it?
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Rafi
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
To the point, I just want to observe that her Blackberry would not have had a separate cache of emails; and therefore, when it was destroyed, nothing new would have been lost.

So once a investigation starts, destroying anything that may contain evidence is ok with you.
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NobleHunter
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I'm deeply skeptical that a disaster recovery system would contain any emails by the time they were asked for. Considering the main IRS back-ups we've been discussing had retention period more suitable to recovery than archives, an actual recovery system would be unlikely to hold on to data for longer.

Depending on the speed of the IT department, the emails might have been gone from the disaster recovery system by the time they'd figured out the hard drive was a write-off. When you only need to go to last week, it may not be worth it to keep data from last month. The systems I'm familiar with store data elsewhere for archival purposes.

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AI Wessex
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
To the point, I just want to observe that her Blackberry would not have had a separate cache of emails; and therefore, when it was destroyed, nothing new would have been lost.

I had a Blackberry for a while several years ago. I may be misremembering, but I thought it had a local storage option for selected messages, even for Exchange.
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Seriati
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quote:
Originally posted by LoverOfJoy:
quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
But we've already heard from people in the IT organization that they don't have backups for the emails in question, because the retention period for those particular backups was short.

Do we know how short the retention period was? How does it compare to the retention period taxpayers are required to have for their tax documents? Given the study on hard drive failure, you'd hope there'd be significant mercy from the IRS for lost documentation after 4-6 years (I think that's the case but don't know).
The retention period in question was permanent storage. The issue arises because of the structure of the system that left it in the discretion of each employee what to store, and placed the full onus on them to convert electronic records to physical for such storage. An utterly stupid system for an entity of any size. In this case, nothing of value should have been lost, because by policy Lerner should have printed out anything that was a public record and being removed from her mail box. Instead the IRS used a kludge by letting people maintain archives on their local disk.

I can't imagine that anyone would ever reasonably expect that such archives were going to be properly stored after that point. If you're too busy to file real time, what's the odds you're going to find the time to sort and file 3 year old e-mail?
quote:
Originally posted by Al Wessex:
Yes, but what is the point of complaining when a robust backup strategy *isn't* followed? To legitimize that disbelief rather than accept it necessitates claiming fraud. That's where some people want to go so they dismiss the more benign, but plausible, explanation. These democrats are unbelievably clever purveyors of perfidy! Look how many things they anticipated and thwarted even before anyone could have known the importance of these damnded rails. Curses!

Absent Lerner pleading the fifth you might have a point. With the pleading, an investigation is at minimum warranted to discover what she believed was criminal about her own actions. For all we know she was selling pot from her work e-mail and acted to protect that. But it's not reasonable to accept that nothing untoward happened where the principal person involved has evidence that went missing under questionable circumstances and pled the fifth (and still pleads the fifth) rather than answer questions. The fear of a "witchhunt" answer is tired at this point given the actual scrutiny.
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Seneca
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At this point it was clear that the Blackberry met the definition of a storage medium to be retained and it was wiped following notification that the investigation was underway. This admission of intentional evidence spoilation is big and it will be interesting to see how the federal judge handling the case acts.
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
With the pleading, an investigation is at minimum warranted to discover what she believed was criminal about her own actions.
What evidence do you have to support the notion that she believed there was anything criminal about her actions rather than the perfectly reasonable belief that her testimony might be taken out of context in order to to subject her to criminal proceedings regardless of whether she had actually done anything (which is the scenarios that the 5th amendment more directly exists to protect people from)?
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TomDavidson
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quote:
I thought it had a local storage option for selected messages, even for Exchange.
Not if your Exchange administrator is doing his job. Which is an open question here, of course.

quote:
Absent Lerner pleading the fifth you might have a point. With the pleading, an investigation is at minimum warranted to discover what she believed was criminal about her own actions.
This is a pretty horrible perversion of the Fifth.
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NobleHunter
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I would be surprised if it wasn't prohibited for a DA (or whomever) to base an investigation on a suspect claiming the fifth. Isn't the legal system required to treat it as a null statement without exculpatory or incriminating value?

That wouldn't apply to a political investigation, of course.

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Wayward Son
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quote:
Absent Lerner pleading the fifth you might have a point. With the pleading, an investigation is at minimum warranted to discover what she believed was criminal about her own actions.
This assumes, of course, that the Congressional Committe believes that Lerner is guilty of something and wants to indict her for it.

Otherwise, they would grant her full immunity and then compel her testimony. That would remove any legitimate pleading of the Fifth.

But at this point it if pretty obvious that the Committee wants to stick her with the blame for this. [Frown]

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LetterRip
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So as suspected the lawyer misunderstood,

quote:
"The administration official said that the inspector general is examining whether any data can be recovered from the previously recycled back-up tapes and suggested that could be the cause of the confusion between the government and Judicial Watch," The Hill's Bernie Becker reported.
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/08/irs-emails-not-lost-after-all-just-buried-in-offsite-backups/

It is sometimes possible to recover overwritten data. This is why it would be expensive. Recoverying overwritten data and then finding the relevant parts (if they were recovered) is a huge effort.

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Wayward Son
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quote:
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/08/25/doj-attorneys-intimate-lost-lerner-emails-likely-exist-in-back-up-computers/

"In a stunning revelation, the president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch told Fox News that Justice Department attorneys have intima7ted that Lois Lerner's "lost" emails likely exist in back-up computers.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the news came during a Friday phone call with Department of Justice attorneys representing the IRS in Judicial Watch's FOIA lawsuit against the IRS.

If you read carefully down the article, you may have caught the Administration's response:

quote:
However, an administration official told Fox News Monday night, “ There was no new back-up system described last week to Judicial Watch. Government lawyers who spoke to Judicial Watch simply referred to the same email retention policy that Commissioner (John) Koskinen had described in his Congressional testimony.”
What does that mean? Perhaps if Fox had read The Hill, or better yet, Mother Jones, they might have gotten some context.

quote:
"[An] administration official said Justice Department lawyers had dropped no bombshells last week, and that Judicial Watch was mischaracterizing what the government had said.

The official said that Justice lawyers were only referring to tapes backing up IRS emails that were routinely recycled twice a year before 2013, when the investigation into the Tea Party controversy began....The administration official said that the inspector general is examining whether any data can be recovered from the previously recycled back-up tapes and suggested that could be the cause of the confusion between the government and Judicial Watch."

Roger that. What he's saying is that backup tapes are routinely recycled and written over, but it's possible that some of the tapes weren't entirely written over. There's a chance that old emails might still be at the tail end of some of the tapes and could be recovered. And who knows: maybe some of them were Lerner's. This is, as you can imagine, (a) the longest of long shots, and (b) a pretty difficult forensic recovery job even if some parts of the backup tapes contain old messages. It's certainly not a jaw-dropping revelation.

Do you think Fox will soon inform their audience of the full context of the story? Or will they continue to let them believe this is a "stunning revelation." [Wink]
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cherrypoptart
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I see your point about the long shot here but if it's the only shot there is at this point then you have to take it. Why wouldn't you? Cost? That's a joke right? With all the money our government wastes suddenly we're worried about the cost of attempting to retrieve data from overwritten hard drives when fundamental attacks on our democracy and Constitution are in play? That's just absurd.
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LetterRip
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cherrypoptart,

quote:
see your point about the long shot here but if it's the only shot there is at this point then you have to take it. Why wouldn't you? Cost? That's a joke right? With all the money our government wastes suddenly we're worried about the cost of attempting to retrieve data from overwritten hard drives when fundamental attacks on our democracy and Constitution are in play? That's just absurd.
IRS doesn't have an unlimited budget. If congress wants to allocate additional funds for the IRS IT department to attempt recovery that has close to no chance of getting anything useful, they can do so.

The problem originated because the IRS isn't allocated enough money to pay for adequate IT (Ie using 10+ year old hard drives, and not adequate hardware for complete long term backups).

The only hope of recovery is if the data they want to retrieve is at the end of the tape that wasn't overwritten on the last recycle (probably a fairly faint chance), and if they use encryption of the drives (which appears they require) it is even more of a long shot.

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cherrypoptart
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If the IRS hadn't wasted so much money illegally and unConstitutionally targeting specific groups to suppress conservative voters there would be plenty of money to do this. Obama has squandered 7 trillion dollars already. I think our Constitution and democracy is worth spending whatever this is going to cost.
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Wayward Son
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quote:
If the IRS hadn't wasted so much money illegally and unConstitutionally targeting specific groups to suppress conservative voters there would be plenty of money to do this.
Cherry, that's baloney. Funds are carefully allocated in our government. It's the old "if you use it, you lose it" problem. The IRS can't reallocate money from personnel to infrastructure. It has to be part of the original budget. It couldn't have been respent on computers by whim.

Besides, no "conversative voters" were supressed. The groups illegally targetted used their funds for primarily educational purposes, not political ones. So no candidate won or lost because of the actions of these groups.

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