Blurt outed

By | 22nd September 2011

Sarah Vine is a journalist at The Times.

She is also Mrs Michael Gove, wife of the Education Secretary.

Normally I would find it difficult to justify blogging about the wife of a politician who, as far as I am aware, has absolutely nothing to do with, and quite possibly no interest in, the world of e-discovery.

However, it so happens that The Times of September 21st published an article written by Education Editor Greg Hurst entitled “Gove intrigue over ‘official use of private e-mails’.” In his piece Mr Hurst refers to a controversy which has arisen over the Education Secretary’s relations with his civil servants, some of whom appear to have been bypassed as a result of the alleged use of private emails by the department’s special advisers and possibly also by Mr Gove himself.

Other claims have emerged that an official may have used a Hotmail account to send an email putting pressure on a school governing body to convert to academy status, that a special adviser asked another to use his gmail address and not his official Department e-mail account and personal email accounts had been used to discuss government business and personnel changes.

Serious enough, you may think, but worse was to come. It now appears that there have been a number of leaks from the department over recent weeks and that concern had been raised that use of personal email accounts would not only cut civil servants out of discussions to which they would normally be a party but could also lead to emails from personal accounts escaping requests for publication under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the report the Education Secretary was said to use an account known among his aides as the “Mrs Blurt account” registered in the name of his wife.

All very puzzling! But it reminded me that private emails may not necessarily be lost in relation to the collection of a body of emails, say in a piece of litigation.

Best practice dictates that when searching for emails between two custodians, you should cast the net widely and run the resulting corpus of data through a search tool such as Nuix which will identify the existence of email accounts being used other than the primary account. While Nuix will not identify the actual content, the fact that other email accounts are being used opens up a line of enquiry which may lead to a request for specific disclosure or an application to the court for an order that the email account owner disclose user names and passwords/log-in details so that the contents of the private emails may be discovered.

Something useful to blurt about, perhaps!