Reeling with the news that a draft opinion had been secretly shared with news media in the case that would overturn Roe v. Wade last spring, the Supreme Court ordered an internal investigation to find the leaker. After more than half a year, investigators came back empty-handed.
According to a report from CNN on Saturday, a culture of lax security could be to blame in the matter.
Supreme Court justices allegedly used their personal email accounts for sensitive judicial matters instead of secure accounts set up by government professionals. Staffers were able to print documents on machines that didn’t produce logs of activity, and could even use off-site printers by way of VPN access, CNN reported. (VPNs, or virtual private networks, allow someone to access data on a secure network from their home or anywhere.)
In the halls of the court’s offices, “burn bags” were left open for staffers to place sensitive documents meant for destruction, according to three former employees who spoke with CNN.
The draft opinion that would reverse 1973′s Roe decision and curtail abortion rights in the U.S. was penned by Justice Samuel Alito in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Politico published it in May.
Staffers were reportedly nervous about telling the justices they should take information security more seriously. As a former employee told CNN, “This has been going on for years.”
Investigators’ 23-page report on the leak, written by Supreme Court Marshal Gail Curley and released last month, criticized poor security practices in more general terms. Curley acknowledged that some printers had “very little logging capability at the time,” saying the logs that did exist often only tracked printing of the most recent 60 documents. Months had passed between the time the draft opinion was circulated internally and the day it was published by Politico.
“If [the leaker] ... was a Court employee, or someone who had access to an employee’s home, that person was able to act with impunity because of inadequate security with respect to the movement of hard copy documents from the Court to home, the absence of mechanisms to track print jobs on Court printers and copiers, and other gaps in security or policies,” Curley’s report stated.
She went on to make recommendations on improving security, which were not released to the public.
Investigators, however, received sharp criticism for failing to ask each of the justices to sign sworn affidavits about the matter, unlike regular employees of the court.