How long do e-mail messages stay fresh?
- By Ed McKenna
- Jun 04, 2001
In Connecticut, the Office of the Public Records Administrator and State
Archives oversees the handling of all public records, including e-mail messages.
When it came to deciding what records should be preserved, officials
first had to determine whether e-mail was covered by the state's legal definition
of a public record. The state defines a record as "any recorded data or
information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned,
used or received by a public agency, whether such data or information be
handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostatted, photographed or
recorded by any method."
Next, officials issued policy guidelines detailing three e-mail categories
with retention schedules for each:
1. Transitory messages — Casual and routine communications that are
similar to telephone conversations. Although they are public records, they
can be disposed of immediately without the approval of the Office of the
Public Records Administrator and State Archives.
2. Less-than-permanent records — Those messages that have value for
a defined period of time, such as records pertaining to a pending legal
case. These communications must be kept in a hard-copy or electronic format
that can be retrieved and interpreted for the legal retention period. Municipalities
and state agency officials can destroy the records only after receiving
signed approval from the Office of the Public Records Administrator and
3. Permanent records — Agency decisions that have enduring historical
value. They must be held permanently in the form of a hard-copy printout
or microfilm that meets the state's microfilm standards.
In the end, government employees will be trusted to follow these guidelines.
However, agency heads and supervisors are responsible for training their
employees to distinguish between the different mail categories, use retention
schedules and obtain approvals for destroying records. Those officials are
also responsible for maintaining accessible records databases that include
all media and processing records requests from citizens.