A Speech That Could End Hillary’s Email Controversy

A Speech That Could End Hillary’s Email Controversy

Why you should care

Because a good speech heals all political wounds, especially the self-inflicted.

The FBI yesterday recommended Hillary Clinton not be prosecuted over her use of private email while she was secretary of state, but the storm of controversy still hangs over her — with GOP members grousing that the recommendation puts her effectively above the law. Lucky for her, Clinton had President Barack Obama campaigning alongside her yesterday and who, in the throes of the Reverend Wright controversy in 2008, gave a soaring exposition of race in America that transcended the issue and snuffed out the scandal. In the following speech, OZY imagines how Clinton might use her own oratorical skills — perhaps with a little help from Obama — to finally bring her nagging email-gate to an end.

SECRETARY CLINTON: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated” — 225 years ago, a group of men passed the Bill of Rights of our Constitution and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in privacy.

The Fourth Amendment they produced was eventually ratified but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of search and seizure — the way the British authorities would search the homes of American colonists and rifle through their personal correspondence. Since that time, there has been a constant struggle between liberty and security in this nation. Privacy is a core American value, embedded in our Constitution — a Constitution that ensures that even as technology changes what is meant by our “papers and effects,” we are still protected from unwarranted searches.

I can no more disown my private email server than I can disown my white grandmother …

 

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to protect our personal correspondence from government inspection. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part — through protests and struggles, through wiping private servers clean that could contain work-related emails — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona.

Source Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this presidential campaign — to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal America, based on a belief that we alone can determine which of our emails are relevant to a congressional subpoena.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own story. I am the daughter of a white traveling salesman from Scranton and a white clerical typist from Chicago. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in the White House as first lady. I won a senate seat in a state I had never lived in, and for four years as secretary of state, I never bothered to use an official state.gov email address. I am married to a white man and former president of the United States who was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. And for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other modern government on earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional of candidates. On one hand, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow hiding something in the 31,830 email messages residing on my private server that were deemed personal and destroyed. On the other, we’ve heard my representatives use evasive language to express the view that there is nothing unusual about a secretary of state reviewing high-level correspondence from the same account in which she gets sale offers from Zappos — a view that rightly offends the computer-literate and the non-computer-literate alike.

I have already condemned, in equivocal terms, the private email server that has caused such controversy and, in some cases, pain. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know that having multiple email accounts does not require having multiple electronic devices? Yes. Did I want to be seen to still be using a BlackBerry in 2011? Of course not. But I can no more disown my private email server than I can disown my white grandmother — a woman who helped babysit me and my brothers, who once confessed her fear that the postman was reading her mail and who used to communicate in a made-up code language that made me cringe.

Truly top secret government information is never sent by email — it is available only in hard copy, carried by a government courier.

 

The fact is that the comments that have caused the recent firestorm reflect the complexities of digital security in this country that we’ve never really worked through — a part of our “papers and effects” we have never addressed. Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. Technological evolution creates challenges for a Constitution ratified over 200 years ago. Today, most Americans maintain their entire lives on their electronic devices and email, and there can be no real doubt that these are our modern equivalent of “papers and effects.”

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a town hall meeting at Hillside Middle School in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Source Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC

Some assume that a private server is less secure than an institutional one. That assumption is simply wrong. Government and company servers are breached all the time — just look at what Russian hackers did to the Democratic Party’s documents recently. No one has presented evidence to suggest that my private server or emails were ever hacked in such a way. In fact, our government presumes that its officials’ emails will be subject to attack, which is why additional security measures, including electronic encryption, are employed to keep information secret. And truly top secret government information is never sent by email — it is available only in hard copy, carried by a government courier. In short, for security purposes, it doesn’t matter whether I was using a government account or my own private server for sending email.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation and explanation are not enough. Why associate myself with a private server in the first place, they may ask? Why not sign up for a government email like every other federal employee in this great nation?

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know about my private email account. The account I set up more than a decade ago is an account that helped introduce me to my grandchildren and plan my daughter’s wedding, an account that informed me when I had dinner reservations through Open Table. When I got to the State Department, I opted to continue to use my personal email account for one reason, one that is familiar to all of you: convenience. It allowed me to reach my family and friends quickly as well as my department colleagues, chatting about yoga routines one minute and North Korean ballistic missile testing the next. Just like any one of you.

Yesterday, FBI Director James B. Comey said he knew there would be “intense public debate” in the wake of his agency’s recommendation to basically leave me alone. And today, we have a choice to make in this country. We can accept a politics that focuses on the deletion of tens of thousands of potentially relevant emails. We can pounce on the fact that I have an iPad and an iPhone in addition to my BlackBerry as evidence that I am comfortable using multiple electronic devices. We can do that.

Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time, we want to talk about digital encryption strategies and layered security protocols. This time, we want to talk about quantum computers and how technological advances will eventually render all of today’s secrecy techniques inadequate. This time, we want to talk about how best to protect our “papers and effects” in a digital age. I would not be running for president if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country.

By itself, forgetting I ever used a private server is not enough. But it is where we start. It is where our campaign — excuse me, our union — grows stronger.

written on my iPhone, please excuse any typos

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OZY2016

The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.