Sonasoft: We never had access to Eastasia

Sonasoft is in a tough position these days. They’re probably no worse than any other company that’s pursuing government contracts, but they found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and anything they say makes things worse.

The IRS lost Lois Lerner’s email messages during a critical period, allegedly because of a computer crash. White House press secretary Josh Earnest mocked the skeptics by implying data loss is routine and no measures exist to prevent it: “You’ve never heard of a computer crashing before?” Well, yes, I have. And I’ve heard of backup. Earnest was somehow hoping that most Americans in this computer age haven’t.

Between the timing of the loss and the administration’s attempt to pretend that irrecoverable loss is routine and inevitable, there’s plenty of grounds for suspicion. On the other hand, bureaucrats will routinely pretend nothing is wrong even if it makes them look worse in the end, and there’s a plausible case that only sloppiness was to blame. An article by Megan McArdle for Bloomberg makes this case.

According to the article, the IRS arbitrarily limited mailboxes to 500 megabytes in 2011. Lerner was archiving her mail on her local hard drive, which wasn’t backed up. The server had been backed up, but the 2011 backup tape had been recycled long ago. This is inexcusably negligent; it’s also very common practice, in both government and private business. No intent to cover up is necessary. However, according to testimony by U.S. Archivist David Ferriero, the IRS did not follow the law when it failed to report the data loss.

More recently it was disclosed that the IRS had contracted to Sonasoft to do backups, with the contract ending shortly after the period of Lerner’s lost email. On Twitter, the company boasted of this:

Now Sonasoft has reversed itself, trying to minimize its role in doing backups for the IRS. In a weirdly Orwellian phrasing, it declares: “Sonasoft does not have IRS email. Sonasoft never had access to IRS email.” We’re now told that Sonasoft provided backup only for IRS Counsel and not any other division, which sounds rather different from “the IRS uses Sonasoft products to backup their servers.”

Were people in the IRS trying to hide something, or was this just one more snafu? I don’t know, but either way the IRS and its defenders in the Obama administration come out looking really bad.

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