Supreme Court justices reportedly used personal email accounts and left ‘burn bags’ of documents in hallways

Supreme Court justices have used personal email accounts in their work and burn bags were left open in hallways, a CNN report has alleged.

The report claims that justices frequently used personal email accounts to send sensitive messages – avoiding using the secure servers put in place to protect the information. This, and several other security setbacks, were not included in the report that the court released last month following last spring’s leak of the draft opinion ending Roe v Wade and the constitutional right to abortion.

Staff allegedly used printers that didn’t log printouts, could print sensitive files away from the premises without being tracked, and “burn bags” filled with sensitive documents to be destroyed were left open in hallways.

“This has been going on for years,” a former member of staff told CNN.

Some justices were slow to begin to use new technology intended to protect information and some staff were reportedly nervous about telling them to take measures to protect the information they were sharing, one source told the outlet.

The justices weren’t “masters of information security protocol”.

Supreme Court Marshal Gail Curley said in her report last month that the “court’s current method of destroying court sensitive documents has vulnerabilities that should be addressed”.

Three former members of staff told CNN about the loose security regarding the burn bags, with one source noting that it wouldn’t be hard for someone with access to the non-public area of the court to get ahold of sensitive files.

A source familiar with the court’s security measures told CNN that should an employee use the burn bags, the materials are usually taken to the basement, emptied into locked bin, and later taken by a shredding company.

Additionally, a former employee told CNN that staffers who had VPN access were able to print documents from any computer, meaning that the tracking of copies was made difficult. Ms Curley noted in her report that printers only logged the last 60 files printed.

The initial draft opinion overturning Roe written by Justice Samuel Alito was shared internally on 10 February 2022, with the investigation into the leak starting in May after Politico published the opinion. Some of the print logs would most probably no longer be there as the 60-file limit had been surpassed.

The marshal suggested that the court “institute tracking mechanisms”.

The report states that Court Information System User Guidelines forbid attempts “to leave facilities with Court Sensitive Information (hard copy or electronic) without proper authorization”.

But during the pandemic, many of those rules were lessened. A source told CNN that even when the rule is in place, there was no way to check what had been removed from the premises.

The Independent has reached out to the court for comment.