Miami Herald by Douglas Hanks
April 25, 2018
hen senior officials in Miami-Dade’s government returned from an extended trade mission to China and Japan last month, the county took the unusual — and possibly illegal — step of erasing all the data from temporary phones issued for the trip.
A log by the county’s Information Technology Department lists 13 phones assigned to county commissioners, department heads and top aides who spent 11 days in China and four in Japan for a trip focused on transit and infrastructure. Next to each official’s name is the date the phone was turned in and a label indicating no data remains: “Wiped by User.”
Myriam Marquez, spokeswoman for Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the elected official who supervises the IT department and led the trade mission, described the “wiping” of the data as a mistake. It was discovered after the Miami Herald requested text messages from the county employee who organized the March 13-27 trip. Marquez said the deletions were part of an effort to protect against Chinese computer viruses that might have been embedded in the phones, but that the data should have been preserved as public records.
“It’s important that no matter where we travel, and how sensitive those places are, we need to dump that information into a safe place first, and then we can destroy the phones,” Marquez said. “We are working on establishing that routine to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Barbara Petersen, director of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, said destroying county correspondence on a cellphone can be a violation of state rules that protect government records — both paper ones and electronic.
“That they wiped the phones, and all of the information on those phones, is extremely troubling,” she said. “Just to wipe the phones clean — wiping everything — could very well be a violation of the public-records law.” [READ MORE]