Records are records, no matter what the format

A case a few years ago involving the Bureau of Indian Affairs underscores what can happen when an agency hasn’t implemented effective policies and procedures to preserve and protect electronic correspondence.

Between Dec. 1, 2001, and Oct. 1, 2002, a BIA official deleted e-mail messages relating to a court dispute over American Indian trust funds.

The official, former assistant secretary Neal McCaleb, said he deleted the e-mail when he began receiving messages that he was close to the limit of his e-mail storage capacity. He also said he believed his messages were being printed and saved by staff.

“The case demonstrates how legally important e-mail records can be,” said Benjamin Wright, a Dallas attorney who specializes in computer security.

“It also demonstrates how silly it is for IT departments to try saving a couple of bucks by being stingy with hard disk space and how ludicrous it is today to view printing as a good way to preserve e-mail,” he said. “Legally relevant e-mail is be-coming so voluminous that preservation by printing is impractical.”

If e-mail records are managed and scheduled properly, they shouldn’t pose a problem, said EPA’s Chris O’Donnell.

“I don’t share the view that e-mail is out of control and you’re exposing yourself legally,” she said. “Records are records, independent of the medium on which they were created. If there’s content in those e-mails that’s sensitive information, it needs to be managed that way. It needs to be managed according to the records schedule. To me, that’s not an issue.”

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