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Is Mike Pence’s AOL Account a Double Standard?

You can add another name to the list of politicians who used personal emails for official business.

This time the culprit is none other than Vice President Mike Pence, who used an AOL account to discuss sensitive political and security matters when he was governor of Indiana, and got hacked while doing so.

This isn’t particularly surprising. The desire for these sort of back channels is just human nature. But it’s still a big problem on two levels.

First, using unofficial channels to do state business violates official record keeping laws. And second, it poses a big security risk since these channels open up new opportunities for hackers.

In Pence’s case, a scammer got into his email his account and sent a message saying Pence and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money. (It could have been much worse: Imagine if the hacker had been a foreign agent rather than a run-of-the-mill scammer?)

But what appears to be really upsetting people about Pence’s sloppy security practices is the apparent hypocrisy. It was not long ago, you may recall, when Pence presided over rallies where crowds chanted “lock her up” at the mention of Hillary Clinton’s email activities, which were not all that different from what Pence did.

Partisans on Twitter (TWTR) quickly made the point:

So was Pence’s AOL activity as egregious offense as what Hillary Clinton did? On one hand, you can point to Clinton’s more elaborate efforts to conceal her activity to say it was not—after all, setting up a private server in one’s bathroom is a few steps beyond using an AOL (VZ) account.

But on the other hand, Pence’s behavior was arguably worse since he was careless enough to actually get hacked. (As far as we know, no one hacked Clinton’s emails.)

Overall, though, there’s case that Republicans engaged in blatant double standards because it’s fairly clear by now that politicians of all sorts like to use unauthorized communications. If you want more examples, there is a recent report of Donald Trump’s senior staffers using private email, while the Daily News in 2015 offered a list that includes Republican bigwigs Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney as well as New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

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So what’s the best response to all this? For now, it might be time to adopt the view of many cybersecurity experts, who say we should treat email security controversies not as a partisan shaming-exercise, but as an opportunity to educate the country into better security practices.

In the meantime, many people simply want to know why Pence was using AOL in the first place:

In response to the news about the AOL emails, Pence’s spokesman said any comparison between Pence and Clinton was “absurd,” according to the Indianapolis Star, which first reported the story.