Yesterday I emailed the Department of Parliamentary Services in regards to their statement on timestamps within Abbott’s press release on Peter Slipper MP.
The email is as follows:
My name is Kieran Cummings & I write for Independent Australia (& my own blog) about technology & politics.
I recently wrote an article in regard to the press release offered by Tony Abbott’s office regarding James Ashby’s case against Peter Slipper. During my investigation I have uncovered quite a lot of information about the PDFs & when they were produced.
Yesterday I was contacted by journalists to advise that DPS had made a statement in regard to when the PDFs were produced. I feel this statement raises more questions than it answers & I would like to get some more information from DPS on this.
What are “technical staff” using to determine when the files were created/converted to PDF? Are you monitoring every computer on the network & all file creations/accesses?
How is it possible for APH’s computers/servers to run on a time zone outside AEST/AEDT? To my knowledge this will cause all sorts of problems with appointments, logs, etc.
The original press release does not use a “z date” format for time stamping, so I ask which file is DPS referring to? The one modified on 23/04/12 or the original that does not include the “z date” formatting? (I have included the original file that was emailed out before the press release that has passed on from a journalist to myself)
No other files around the time this was created exhibit the same symptoms, if APH does indeed use UTC on all the computers this would be easily replicated. Why is this not the case?
When DPS notes that this was a “technical problem”, where is it arising from?
Tony Abbott’s office advised on 13/12/12 that they were aware of the problem in April 2012, yet DPS does not seem to have known about the problem until 13/12/12. Can DPS please confirm that this has been a continual problem?
Your prompt responses would be appreciated.
[UPDATE]: I have received a response from DPS advising they will get back to me in regards to this email. I will post updates/emails as they come in.
[UPDATE2]: I just received a formal response from DPS regarding the time stamps on Abbott’s press release, it is as follows:
In analysing the issues from the media enquiry, DPS used the file creation timestamp from the DPS servers that the documents were saved on. It is not possible for users to change the time zone on the servers.
File creation and access is not monitored on all computers on the network.
DPS uses a Microsoft Windows computing environment which is capable of supporting multiple time zones. The computers and servers in APH are configured in the AEST/AEDT time zone. A large number of computers and servers that are distributed across the country in electorate offices run with different time zones. This is a normal and supported configuration. Outlook Calendars are displayed in the time zone of the client machine. Users are allowed to change the time zone of their own computers to reflect times and dates for travelling staff.
DPS has analysed the original file on the DPS servers, a version that was emailed out as a press release and a version obtained via ParlInfo. The original file and the file emailed as a press release do not contain the â??Zâ?? in the timestamp. The ParlInfo version does. The creation and modified date timestamps contained in the metadata from the original and the emailed press release version are the same. The ParlInfo version has a different modified date. The timestamp of 23/04/12 on the Parlinfo version of the file is the submission date into ParlInfo. DPS can confirm that the PDF file sent out as a press release was not created on 20/04/12 and was saved on 21/04/2012 at 9:08am. The word document used to create this PDF was saved on 21/04/2012 at 9:07am.
DPS technical staff have checked the MD5 hash from the original file version on the DPS servers and the file emailed as a press release and confirmed these files are identical.
DPS has undertaken further analysis of this issue and can confirm that there are other examples of this same issue occurring. DPS has been able to replicate this issue.
DPS has logged this issue with Microsoft to determine if this behaviour is by design or in fact an error.
DPS has not found any previous record of this being logged as an issue. It is common for users not to report all issues to the Help Desk, especially if they do not affect their day to day work.
While this does clear Abbott’s office regarding the creation of PDFs/files on DPS servers, it does raise questions over the timing of file creations.
It seems this problem has existed for some time, yet no one in Parliament House thought to correct it. Seeing as time stamps are vital for accountability, I am concerned that known bugs/problems are being exploited to cover up the time of creation of official documents. As I have noted in my last blog post, the same user was using Adobe Distiller with correct time zone flags for some press releases & transcripts, but not for others.
While I am satisfied with DPS’s response, I do question the speed with which Abbott’s Office drafted & sent the statement on Peter Slipper. Between the press release being PDFed/saved & Abbott’s press conference in Brisbane there was a matter of 9 minutes for this document to be edited, clear legal & be read, understood, & recited by Abbott. This does seem to be cutting it fine at best, and after Warren Entsch’s statements regarding his knowledge of the Ashby/Slipper case & News LTD story, I can’t believe that someone in Abbott’s office had no knowledge.
For now, I will have to say that there is a lot of suspicious activity regarding IT in Abbott’s office. There is no smoking gun (as I did claim in my last post), but more of a whiff of bullshit. The fact Abbott’s office blamed servers (which is incorrect) rather than Microsoft Word, claimed it was ongoing through April, then claimed they were unaware of the problem does make me believe there is some furious track covering happening.
I can only hope an inquiry is set up to find out who knew what when, as using the legal system to attempt to bring down a sitting MP & the government is concerning. With the Thomson case petering out, & the Ashby case being slammed by Justice Rares, the attack angles for Abbott have dried up. A lack of substance & ethics has lead us to this point, I can only hope more journalists question rather than regurgitate press releases from the most destructive politician to ever become a party leader in Australia.