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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.

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,

Miller said.

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.


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