As the US Supreme Court continues to investigate how a draft of the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that struck down abortion rights across the country was leaked last May, news outlet sources US media say the court found that judges have been slow to assume security. protocols, including the use of secure servers when sending confidential information.
A CNN report on Saturday cited several anonymous sources as saying that judges often use personal email accounts to send confidential materials, despite the fact that the court has secure servers meant to handle such correspondence. Some court employees were nervous about confronting the judges about using personal emails instead of the more secure method, the CNN report said.
The judges “were not masters of information security protocol,” a former court employee told CNN.
Sources also told CNN that the court had disparate protocols for handling “burn bags,” or bags given to court employees containing discarded confidential physical documents that were meant to be burned or shredded. Each judge has their own burn bag protocol, with some employees stapling the burn bags and others leaving them open near their desks. Bags to burn were sometimes left in the hallway outside the chambers.
The employees confirmed that there have been other, broader safety concerns in court for a while, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many employees to work from home.
“This has been going on for years,” an employee told CNN.
The court has been conducting its own investigation into the leak of Dobbs’ draft. Last month, he published a 23-page report as a follow-up to the investigation.
Investigators said they have so far been “unable to identify a responsible person based on a preponderance of the evidence” after 126 formal interviews with 97 employees who submitted affidavits under penalty of perjury.
Court bailiff Gail Curley, who is leading the investigation, said in a statement last month that “too many staff have access to certain confidential court documents.”
“Current distribution mechanisms result in too many people having access to highly sensitive information and the inability to actively track who is handling and accessing these documents,” he said.
The report noted that the draft opinion was sent on February 10 last year to 70 court employees and permanent court employees. About a month later, eight more employees received the draft by email. Investigators later found two other employees who accessed the draft. Drafts were also distributed in some chambers. Thirty-four employees confirmed printing copies, while four said they weren’t sure. Several said they printed more than one copy.
One flaw mentioned in the report is that printers in the court are unable to properly record all print jobs, making it difficult for the court to track when sensitive material is being printed. Some employees also have VPN access that allows them to print documents from any computer without being tracked.
People working from home created “gaps in court security” and “created an environment where it was all too easy to remove sensitive information from the building and from the court.” [information technology] networks,” the report says.
Curley noted in his statement that he “spoke to each of the judges, several on multiple occasions. The magistrates actively cooperated in this… process, asking questions and answering mine. I followed up on all credible leads, none of which implicated the judges or their spouses.”
However, Curley also said that supreme court justices were not required to sign affidavits during the leak investigation as other employees were.