Court quizzes Justice about BIA's Hotmail use

Court quizzes Justice about BIA's Hotmail use

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has asked the Justice Department to report on the Bureau of Indian Affairs' use of commercial Hotmail accounts to conduct official business. BIA continues to operate under a Dec. 5, 2001, order barring connections between agency systems and the Internet. The court imposed that order to prevent hacking of Indian trust account databases BIA oversees [see story at gcn.com/21_29/news/20110-1.html].

In a recent letter, Alan L. Balaran, a court officer appointed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth, asked attorney Sandra Spooner of the Justice Department's Civil Division to identify BIA employees who use Hotmail accounts to communicate within the Interior Department or with contractors.

Balaran learned of the Hotmail communication among BIA employees after Justice, as part of a deposition, submitted a copy of a Hotmail message from one BIA employee to another. He said in his letter to Spooner that BIA communication via the agency's intranet or the agency's Lotus Notes application would have been acceptable under the December 2001 court order.

But Balaran's letter said there was no indication in the BIA deposition that the agency is policing the content of Hotmail messages to assure that no Indian trust information goes into them.

Most Interior computers have been reconnected to the Internet, but BIA, which holds the most sensitive Indian trust information, remains isolated to protect the trust accounting data. The lawsuit, Cobell v. Norton, has continued for six years over disputed accounting for assets that Interior holds in trust for American Indians.

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