Tim Lee over at Ars Technica has an update on the latest developments in the ongoing White House lost-email saga. A federal magistrate judge last week criticized the administration for its foot-dragging and ordered it to provide detailed information about how it plans to salvage the millions of emails that may have been lost, in violation of federal law. Lee also gives us some background on just how shockingly bad the situation is:

When the Bush administration took office, it decided to replace the Lotus Notes-based e-mail system used under the Clinton Administration with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. The transition broke compatibility with the old archiving system, and the White House IT shop did not immediately have a new one to put in its place.

Instead, the White House has instituted a comically primitive system called "journaling," in which (to quote from a recent Congressional report) "a White House staffer or contractor would collect from a 'journal' e-mail folder in the Microsoft Exchange system copies of e-mails sent and received by White House employees." These would be manually named and saved as ".pst" files on White House servers. ...

Because the archiving process was conducted manually and in an ad hoc fashion, human error could easily lead to the inadvertent omission of e-mails that are required to be preserved under federal law. ...  Even more troubling, due to a lack of redundancy and proper access controls, anyone with access to the White House servers could have tampered with or deleted the e-mails in the archives.

Which renews the perennial debate surrounding so much of the Bush administration's conduct: a sinister plot to undermine executive-branch accountability, or plain old incompetence?

--Josh Patashnik