You've got mail
- By William Matthews
- Mar 05, 2000
The president famous for his overlong orations is no slouch either when
it comes to electronic communication.
Over the past seven years, the White House has produced 30 million to
40 million e-mail messages, according to the National Archives and Records
Administration. That's approximately 13,698 a day. And with the administration
in its final months, the question is looming: What to do with them?
The number is more than the Archives can properly preserve with current
technology, said Michael Miller, director of Modern Records Programs at
The Archives is the agency charged with saving the nation's records
for historical purposes. The agency has electronic records dating back to
World War II, when they were produced using punch cards. But the volume
of electronic records generated in recent years poses technology problems
for the recordkeepers.
Documents, including e-mail messages produced by the president and the
hundreds of people who work for him, are government records if they were
created during the performance of official duties. As such, they are the
property of the American people and must be turned over to the Archives
to be saved as part of the nation's history.
The Archives, in turn, is required to make most of the documents available
to the public. But the agency must also follow privacy laws, which forbid
disclosing certain personal information.
Miller said the Archives needs to develop new methods of searching and
retrieving items from the vast trove of e-mail messages so that privacy
remains protected. An e-mail message to the president from a Social Security
recipient, for example, would be a public record, but privacy laws prohibit
disclosing the sender's Social Security number, Miller told a gathering
of records managers in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
So far, the Archives does not have the technical capability to screen
electronic messages and screen out information such as Social Security numbers,
The Archives has asked Congress to include nearly $1 million in next
year's budget for developing better systems for storing electronic records.
The agency hopes to test a system designed to rapidly save large numbers
of electronic records, especially e-mail messages.