E-mail can spell trouble for unprepared government agencies

As millions more e-mail messages clog government inboxes, the legal consequences of e-mail delivery and storage have become a bigger issue for government agencies, an attorney who specializes in record retention cases said.

Agencies must follow strict rules dictated by the National Archives and Records Administration on retaining and archiving records, including e-mail that previously was considered casual communication.

Although there aren’t many cases where agencies have breached those rules, an increasing reliance on e-mail could make following them and fulfilling things like Freedom of Information Act requests more complicated, said David S. Cohen, a partner and co-founder of Cohen Mohr LLP in Washington.

“Some of the rules are counter-intuitive,” Cohen said yesterday at a seminar sponsored by Storage Technology Corp. of Louisville, Colo. “They’re sometimes complex. But they’re becoming increasingly important.”

He said an average 36 billion messages circulate throughout government agencies each year. And once employees hit “send,” they lose control over where a message eventually lands. “E-mail is treated too informally by most e-mail users,” said Cohen, urging government users to assume each e-mail they send could end up on the front page of The New York Times. “If you live by this rule, you will avoid mistakes.”

He said good agencywide e-mail practices involve comprehensive management programs, easy retrieval systems, folder size limits, and retention time lines and rules.

“The government has the same problems with e-mail and litigation as private firms do,” Cohen said.

About the Author

Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.

Featured

  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.